The Struggle Continues
After high school, Dianne went on to major in elementary education with a minor in special education. She taught special education in the Selma school system for 27 years, and now, at the age of 68, educates visitors to Selma on the Civil Rights history and the work that still needs to be done today in the fight for racial equality.
“The struggle continues,” says Dianne. “The racial climate today is better than it was back in the ‘60s, but we’re not where we should be. There is always going to be room for improvement. We still need to continue to unify.”
Dianne continues her legacy of supporting every citizen’s right to vote. During elections, she volunteers answering phones and driving people to the polls. “I haven’t let the true meaning of what we fought for die within me. I always make sure I vote, and I encourage anyone I meet to vote, too.”
Women Inspiring Women
Over 2,000 students at the local high schools participated in the student movement in 1965. Like many other residents of Selma, Dianne’s mother allowed her children to participate in the marches because she couldn’t participate herself during the day. As a single mother and the breadwinner of the family, she couldn’t risk being seen organizing for fear of losing her job. “She was working, but she as doing her civil rights duty incognito,” says Dianne.
Dianne’s mother attended “Mass Meetings” at night and took part in the cause whenever she could. “When Dr. King sent out a call to house volunteers coming to Selma, I was so proud of my mom. She went down and signed her name to house two people.” A young white couple from New York stayed with Dianne’s family for a week, and they stayed in touch for many years after.
Dianne says that, when she was an adult, she asked her mother if she had ever been afraid for her children. “She said, ‘of course!’ All you could do was pray and hope that your children were safe.” But Dianne’s mother still allowed her children to participate. “I don’t know where that bravery came from, but I have to say I have a lot of it in me.”
Not only did Dianne have an impact on the Civil Rights Movement, but the Civil Rights Movement and its leaders also had a great impact on her. Of the eight key leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in Selma, two of them were women: Marie Foster and Amelia Boynton Robinson. In iconic images from Bloody Sunday, Amelia can be seen being dragged because of her injuries. Dianne says that these two women also served as great inspiration for her. “I always felt that they were very brave women to be able to stand up there with the men.”
She says that her involvement in the movement taught her to stand up for herself and made her a strong, self-confident individual. “It’s taught me to be a strong person and be proud of my African American heritage. It taught me how to speak up when I saw injustices. If I see something going on that’s wrong, I see something and do something.”
Dianne hopes to instill that confidence and power in the young women she interacts with at her sorority. She encourages other women to continue that legacy by being a role model for someone else. “Reach back and pull someone else up. If each one touches one, we’ll make a better world.”
Dianne Harris shares her experiences as a freedom fighter with Road Scholars on our“Heart of the Civil Rights Movement” program as she joins participants for a visit to Brown Chapel AME Church and a walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.