North Central College - Naperville, IL

Civil rights panel on April 5 opens Student Leadership Conference

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North Central students return from Selma march in 1963, tell their stories (photo from The Chronicle archives)

North Central College presents a panel discussion Friday, April 5, that reminisces of historic, personal events in 1963 during the modern civil rights movement. The free event begins at 6 p.m. in Wentz Concert Hall and is the opening session for the two-day Student Leadership Conference.

Moderated by North Central’s Dr. C. Frederick Toenniges Professor of History Ann Durkin Keating, three panelists will share their personal recollections of travels to Jackson, Miss., in the early 1960s to work with the civil rights movement and network with churches. Titled “1963 Protests for Civil Rights: Desegregation in Jackson, Mississippi—A Panel Discussion 50 Years Later,” this event was originally scheduled in February but postponed due to weather.

Panelists include Thomas Armstrong, a Naperville resident born in Mississippi, who worked on the front lines of the civil rights movement; Rev. Martin Deppe, a retired Methodist pastor who served for decades in the Chicago area and participated in efforts to desegregate churches in Jackson; and North Central alumnus Rev. Robert Harman ’59, keynote speaker at the College’s 2010 Martin Luther King Breakfast, who marched with King in Chicago in 1966. 

Armstrong (left) was a student at Tougaloo College, a historically black school in Mississippi. He participated in the 1963-1964 church visits and worked to integrate all-white churches in Jackson. He served with Medgar Evers and others on voting rights campaigns and was one of the first Mississippi residents to join the Freedom Riders who tested the laws against segregation, drawing national attention. He authored “Autobiography of a Freedom Rider: My Life as a Foot Soldier for Civil Rights.”

Deppe is a retired Methodist pastor who served for decades in Chicago and the suburbs. He has many connections to pastors of the former Evangelical United Brethren Church, which had early influences at North Central. He participated in the effort to desegregate churches in downtown Jackson and worked alongside Tougaloo students like Armstrong, other Chicago area ministers and North Central alumni who worked against segregation, including Harman and Rev. Dr. Richard Tholin ’49.

Harman (right) is a leader in the United Methodist Church, an author, historian and lifelong advocate for civil rights, social justice and worldwide evangelism. While serving an inner-city Chicago congregation, he marched with King, witnessed King’s attempts to improve open housing laws, and personally experienced civil disobedience when he was arrested during a march and spent the night in jail. In 2010, North Central recognized Harman’s lifelong service and contributions, naming him to the College’s Wall of Witness.

In 1965, a group of 120 North Central College students, chaperones and faculty traveled by bus to Selma, Ala., to participate in a march on Sunday, March 21, with other civil rights supporters. Members of the North Central community have a long history of advocating for civil rights, racial justice and equality.

04-03-2013