Joanne Bland

Joanne Bland is co-founder and director of the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute in Selma, Alabama, where she works to promote civil and human rights, and in particular seeks to increase voter awareness. During her lifetime she has been a witness and participant in some of our nation’s most consequential civil rights battles. She began her civil rights activism in 1961 as an eight-year-old attending a freedom and voters’ rights meeting presided over by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Students for a Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) activists organized Bland and other area children and teenagers to participate in the civil rights movement. In the front lines of the struggle, the young Bland marched on "Bloody Sunday" and "Turn Around Tuesday," witnessing brutal beatings, shooting and hosing of fellow marchers by police. Only 11 years old, she has the distinction of being the youngest person to have been jailed in these demonstrations. 

Ms. Bland’s early involvement in the struggle against “Jim Crow”, American apartheid, has been the foundation for her civil and human rights work throughout her life. She continues to be active in local and regional organizations devoted to expanding and securing civil and human rights. These include: SCLC, NAACP, Alabama New South Coalition, Black Belt Arts and Cultural Center, Sunflower Project, Ladies With A Mission, and her church, Ward Chapel A.M.E. A much sought after speaker with a compelling personal story of civil rights activism, Ms. Bland has presented at conferences and workshops from the Smithsonian in Washington, DC to the states Maine, Wisconsin, Vermont, Minnesota, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Texas, South Carolina, and, of course, throughout Alabama. She is an Army veteran and a graduate of the University of Staten Island, where she received her B.A. degree. As we move into another presidential election cycle, Ms. Bland’s presentation on the significance of the Selma struggle and the continuing relevance of voting in our participatory democracy will be especially timely.