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Interviews with news makers and discussion of topics important to Southwest Michigan. Subscribe to the podcast through Apple itunes and Google. Segments of interview are heard in WestSouthwest Brief during Morning Edition and All Things Considered

WSW: A Journey About Race, Past And Present

Courtesy of Robert Weir

Robert Weir was “a little too young” to participate in the civil rights movement. Since he grew up in a rural, all-white area in Michigan, he didn’t know much about the movement until Martin Luther King Junior was assassinated. Weir has since written about civil rights, and recently joined a pilgrimage to key sites in three southern states. The Living Legacy Pilgrimage is a bus tour through Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama.

Writer and author Robert Weir wrote about his journey for the February issue of Encore Magazine. He says it was more than a historical tour, because it applies to human rights today.

The Civil Rights Museum in Memphis is located in the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Junior was assassinated in 1968. Weir says it includes a comprehensive history of slavery and the failed policy of separate but equal education. And he says it the museum includes the boarding house from where James Earl Ray fried the shot that killed King.

In Mississippi the pilgrimage stops at the place where Emmett Till was killed. The 14 year old black youth was visiting his great uncle in Mississippi. As Weir explains it was said that Till made the mistake of flirting with a 21 year old beauty queen. Carolyn Bryant’s husband and his half-brother abducted Till. His body was found in a river brutally beaten and shot. Emmett Till’s mother insisted that the casket be open for his funeral to show what happened to her son. Weir says the sign marking the site of Till’s death now has 40 fresh bullet holes. And recently it was reported that Carolyn Bryant told a biographer that she made up the story of Till flirting with her.

Writer Robert Weir at the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama
Credit Courtesy of Robert Weir
Writer Robert Weir at the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama

Another historical scene of violence is the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Weir says the bombing that killed four young girls shows the grip white supremacy had in the south. A man named Bob Chambliss was arrested. Weir says he was known as “dynamite Bob” because he bragged about bombing homes and churches where black families lived and worshipped. Chambliss was convicted of illegally possessing dynamite, but nothing else. In 1977 Chambliss was retried and convicted of murder, two other associates were also convicted. Weir says justice was delayed because FBI director J. Edgar Hoover made sure information was withheld from the first trial.

The journey continues to one of the iconic sites of the civil rights movement, the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. In 1965 the marchers were met by Alabama state troopers on the other side. Weir says many were known Ku Klux Klansman. The marchers were beaten and tear gassed. Weir said as he walked across the bridge, he thought about what it would be like to know that violence was waiting on the other side.

Interview with Robert Weir - web version

Weir also spoke to people in Kalamazoo about their experiences of being discriminated against and unjustly treated. In the extended version of the interview, Weir explains that he still sees many of the same problems today. He says that includes marginalizing minorities, banning certain groups from coming to the United States, efforts to stop people from voting and police brutality.

Weir is scheduled to speak at the Citizens for Peace monthly meeting, Tuesday, June 13, at 7:00 at Unity of Livonia Church. 

Gordon Evans became WMUK's Content Director in 2019 after more than 20 years as an anchor, host and reporter. A 1990 graduate of Michigan State, he began work at WMUK in 1996.
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