As a college student, Cortland Cox persuaded his classmates at Howard University to demonstrate at whites-only restaurants, demanding integration. He would go on to serve on the executive committee of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a pivotal civil-rights group. He also helped organize the March on Washington in 1963 and the Freedom Summer in Mississippi in 1964.
In another part of the segregated South, James Clyburn was elected president of his NAACP youth chapter in Sumter, South Carolina. He was 12 years old. Today, he continues advancing civil rights as the majority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, making him the highest-ranking Black person in Congress.
Cox and Clyburn will join other civil rights leaders to share their experiences fighting white supremacy during a USA TODAY live virtual event, “A change is gonna come: civil rights leaders on how to fight for freedom.” The event is free to attend and is scheduled for Dec. 14 at 7 p.m. EST. Register here.
The event is part of USA TODAY’s “Seven Days of 1961” series, which explores how sustained acts of resistance can change history and overcome systemic racism. The multimedia project includes a podcast series, graphic novels, feature stories, videos and other content covering seven pivotal days of protest in 1961 that helped fuel the civil rights movement. These protests continue to inform political movements today.
The project comes amid a year of racial reckoning for many U.S. institutions, with debates unfolding within the White House, Congress, statehouses, local police departments and school boards over how the nation’s history of slavery and white nationalism continue to create barriers for people from marginalized communities.
The Dec. 14 event was organized in collaboration with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
Aaron Bryant, a curator at the museum, will moderate a panel discussion during the event alongside USA TODAY national correspondent Deborah Berry, who conceived the “Seven Days of 1961” project. Along with Clyburn and Cox, the panelists are Arekia Bennett, executive director of the youth civic engagement organization Mississippi Votes, and LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter Fund and Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute.
The event will also include a performance from the Morgan State University Choir, one of the nation’s most prestigious university choral ensembles, and a performance from poet Evie Shockley, an award-winning poet whose writing includes “the new black” and “semiautomatic.”
This is the third live event USA TODAY has hosted as part of the “Seven Days of 1961” series.
You can watch the “Seven Days of 1961” live event from November, “Power to the People: How Voting Laws Shaped the United States and Black America,” here. The event included a panel discussion featuring Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP; community activist Nupol Kiazolu; civil rights veteran Ruby Nell Sales; Valerie Jarrett, president of the Barack Obama Foundation and chair of Civic Nation, a civic engagement nonprofit; and U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams of Georgia. Lance Wheeler, director of exhibitions at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, co-moderated the event with Berry. It also featured a musical performance from the Florida A&M University Concert Choir led by director Mark Butler.
You can watch the “Seven Days of 1961” live event from September, “Freedom Now: How Institutions of Power Fuel and Stall Change,” here. It features a musical performance from Charles Neblett, one of the original Freedom Singers, a group launched in 1962 to raise money for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Tracy K. Smith, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who served as the 22nd Poet Laureate of the United States from 2017 through 2019, read from her work.
Participants also heard from panelists Ja’Mal Green, a Chicago Black Lives Matter activist; Georgia state Sen. Kimberly S. Jackson; Brenda Travis, an NAACP student leader in the 1960s; and Gerard Robinson, vice president for education at the Advanced Studies in Culture Foundation at the University of Virginia. Daphne Chamberlain, an associate professor of history at Tougaloo College, and USA TODAY’s Berry moderated the event.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Free USA TODAY event offers lessons on fighting for freedom