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Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014

Peggy Rozga Revisits the Freedom Ride

50th anniversary of the summer that changed America

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This June, poet, civil rights activist and UW-Waukesha English professor Emerita Margaret (Peggy) Rozga and UWW history teacher Jim O’Leary will lead a nine-day Freedom Ride commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer. Rozga, a member of the Milwaukee NAACP Youth Council from 1967-1968, worked on the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Voter Registration Project in Alabama in 1965. She sat down with Off the Cuff to speak about the trip and the current status of voting rights and housing registration.

 

The Freedom Ride is open to the public. Are you still accepting participants?

Yes, we’re still accepting participants at this time and it’s open to anybody. We’d really like to see both students and a variety of ages and backgrounds because that energizes the dialogue. Vic Passante and Jim O’Leary are doing a presentation on March 11. Vic has put together a slide show of some of the places that we’ll be going, and Jim will talk about the history and why we’re going to see these places.

 

How does visiting places crucial to the civil rights movement and learning about the history fuel advocacy and positive progress in the present?

I don’t think it always does. Sometimes people are like “Oh, I’m glad we’re not there anymore.” But for many people it does have the effect of increasing the desire to be involved. Maybe because on the tour people see things that make them realize that we still have a ways to go. Or maybe they see things that indicate some progress has been made and then that encourages participation in activities that continue to move us toward racial justice.

 

What do you believe are the most important challenges to voting rights today?

Anything that works to limit the number of people voting, no matter what argument is advanced for it and no matter how innocent it may seem, is a real threat. We can’t go down that road at all. It doesn’t matter that going to vote is a legally defensible reason to be absent from work—who would argue that with your boss? So we need early voting and we need weekend voting.

 

What changes do you think still need to be made in terms of fair housing legislation?

I think what’s needed most of all is the building of networks and of other signs of being welcoming. I think the arts can contribute a lot to that. It’s one of the reasons that continual cutting of school budgets, cutting out things like the arts and going to a curriculum that is all test oriented really bothers me because that doesn’t empower people.

 

How do we fight these cuts in schools?

First of all, we have to know what’s going on. I don’t think that’s generally known. The person whose children are all grown, who feels detached from the schools, needs to realize that the quality of the community depends upon what goes on in those schools and needs to invest in them. It’s a pay-it-forward sort of thing. Somebody paid so that your kids could have a good education—you got to continue the tradition. The energy is there, the desire to succeed is there, the desire to use their talents and grow in their talents is there. Let’s not kill it. The whole city depends on it.

 

The Freedom Ride information session will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 11, at the UW-Waukesha campus. For more information, contact Vic Passante, continuing education travel coordinator, at 262-521-5460 or vic.passante@uwc.edu.

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