Civil rights activist shares experience with students


Civil rights activist shares experience with students

8:57 a.m. PST January 12, 2016

Loud. Scary. Like being inside a beehive.

These were the words Karen Trusty, 71, used to describe what it felt like being attacked by the Klu Klux Klan.

As an activist in the 1960s, Trusty participated in countless efforts to promote civil rights, which she spoke of during her visit to Crossler Middle School on Monday.

She took part in many sit-ins in Atlanta, including the Pickrick restaurant, a notoriously white-only establishment owned by eventual governor of Georgia Lester Maddox. Trusty was beaten, arrested twice and spent 10 days in jail.

Trusty, who was 19 at the time, was one of the four civil rights activists to walk into the segregationist rally at Stone Mountain, famous for its Klu Klux Klan history. She was the only white activist, accompanied by three black, male activists.

There were 10,000 segregationists at the rally, she said. When she and the others entered, the room went silent.

One white female leader yelled, “Kill the (n-word)s.”

The crown began beating Trusty and the other activists with chairs.

Through her nonviolence training, she said, she knew what to do.

She took off her glasses, though she couldn’t see anything without them. She crouched down and protected her vital organs.

She kept thinking, “I’m not getting out of here … I’m done.”

She was able to get outside with help from some in attendance. She saw the sun and said she figured she must still be alive.

One of the other activists, Matthew, had to get 16 stitches in his head from the attack. The other two escaped with the help of two policemen, something she said wasn’t exactly common.

“The police believed in segregation,” she said. “That was their mission.”

This was one of many stories Trusty shared with the students on Monday.

Trusty recounted her experiences as a civil rights activist and the importance of the movement — both historically and modernly — as she spoke to the students.

Throughout her speech, Trusty spoke of countless people of color, particularly the thousands of young people and students, who made change a reality. She explained race relations of the time, the dangers that faced those fighting against racism, and racism that continues to exist today.

“I was lucky enough to be part of the … movement,” she said. She quoted another activist who said, “We had to break the law to change the law.”

She explained nonviolent tactics by saying, “Nonviolence shows the violence.” She said that once people around the world see such violence, “it changes (their) minds.”

Mid-afternoon, Trusty, who now lives in Oregon, spoke with the sixth-grade class who have been studying the civil rights movement in light of the upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday.

She told them what is was like to be imprisoned, to learn of the injustices done against black people, and more.

She also spoke about her involvement as a white activist, specifically. As activists of all races saw each others’ “blood spilled for the cause,” she said they all realized, “It was not the color of their skin, but the principle they believed in” that was important.

The sixth-graders listened to Trusty and had many questions for her following her speech. They clapped and stomped along when she sang freedom songs.

At the end, she had all the students stand up, locks arms and sing freedom songs together.

“Woke up this morning with my mind set on freedom,” they sang.

Trusty said she wanted the students to know how important it is to stand up in the face of injustice and that racism still exists today.

“There’s an element of mistrust and racism that exists and tells us that black people are not as important,” she said. “This is a very serious thing — a very painful thing.”

Trusty and the event organizers stressed the importance of young people being a part of changing the world.

“At Crossler, we feel like history comes to life when we have people telling their stories of what they faced,” said Tiffera Tarbox, one of the organizers of the event. “We also are wanting to send a message that as kids they can impact and bring about change in our society.

“You don’t have to be an adult to stand up against something and make our country a better place.”, (503) 399-6745, or follow on Twitter @Nataliempate or

Published by Natalie Pate

Natalie Pate is a freelance journalist and author based in Salem, Oregon. She wrote about education for more than seven years at the Statesman Journal and now covers education and other topics throughout the Pacific Northwest. She is originally from Colorado and earned her B.A. in Politics and French from Willamette University.

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