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Freedom Rider to visit Minnesota West Tuesday

WORTHINGTON — Freedom Rider Joan Browning will visit Minnesota West Community and Technical College at noon Tuesday to lecture students and community members about her experiences and involvement with the civil rights movement.

The Culture Corner joined efforts with the Minnesota West Humanities Department and Southwest Minnesota State University at Marshall to bring Browning to campus. Le Lucht, director of cultural diversity at Minnesota West,explained that in previous years, bringing civil rights movement speakers was part of the class The Turbulent Sixties. Even though the class is not being offered this semester, Lucht said she still wanted to bring that experience to students.

Browning grew up in a small town in rural Georgia just a few miles away from cotton plantations, where hundreds of black men and women were slaves. She grew older seeing images of politician Eugene Talmadge, an open supporter of segregation and slavery. At age 18, she decided to move to Atlanta, Ga., where she volunteered with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Browning also participated in the demonstrations at Paine College, a historically black college in Augusta, Ga., in 1961. That same year, she was asked to leave Georgia State College for Women in Milledgeville because she had worshipped at a black church.

In addition, Browning was part of the Atlanta Student Movement sit-ins in Atlanta in 1961-1963, and was one of the nine Albany Freedom Riders on the last freedom ride.

“She experienced firsthand growing up around the violence and the racism of the Deep South and it affected her profoundly,” Lucht said. “As a caucasian, her education led her to become part of the civil rights movement.”

Browning will be lecturing different classes Tuesday as well as at a public forum in the Minnesota West Fine Arts Theater.

Lucht said she’s expecting a good number of people to attend the event, with students coming  from the Alternative Learning Center, Worthington High School, and Ellsworth and Fulda schools.She added that it’s a great chance for students and community members to listen to a different perspective of history and clarify any doubts about the topic.  

“She is very much open to sharing things that are happening today with the historical perspective as well,” Lucht said. “She will be open to answer questions from the audience, so there will be a good span of time that people can ask questions.”

Browning will be speaking at several classes Tuesday, including a sociology class taught by professor Jay Vargas.

Vargas said he thinks of Browning as a “walking history book,” and that there isn’t a better way to teach students than with somebody who has experienced history firsthand.

“She brings wide information that any book will tell because she experienced it,” Vargas said. “When you read something in a book, it's something that somebody wrote that somebody else told them, but when you actually bring the person who was actually doing it, it’s a very different perspective.”

He noted that Browning not only brings a different point of view to his students, but also represents one of the most valuable characteristics of this country.

“I think it’s very important for students to be exposed to people who were actually in the forefront of the social movement because it's what makes this country great,” Vargas said. “You can voice your opinions, you can be part of a group … that's the beauty of us. … You try to do that in other countries and your life might be in jeopardy.”

To reserve seats, contact Lucht at Le.lucht@mnwest.edu.

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