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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

First Person: Granddaughter Wants To Continue Her Grandfather’s Fight Against Injustice

 June 15, 2020 at 11:39 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Hundreds of San Diego ans have demonstrated in recent weeks against police violence and racial injustice. One of them is 22 year old Isabella Lawrence who invited her 83 year old grandfather to join her at a rally in Santi. It was at that rally that Richard Lawrence spoke about what it was like to March in Selma, Alabama in 1965, alongside dr. Martin Luther King, jr. Selma was just one of many marches, protests and actions. Lawrence was involved in during the civil rights movement as part of our first person series. Isabella spoke to her grandfather about how today's protest movement compares to the movement in the 1960s. Speaker 2: 00:42 So I know you've been involved in, you know, this movement and the civil rights for a very long time. What kind of, what kind of sparked it or what, what was the, you know, the time that you decided you needed to get involved and help take the lead on things? Speaker 3: 00:55 I suppose it started when I was a kid, because when a neighbor sent us, as kids got into a fight, they would come back and finally their last word was why don't you Speaker 2: 01:08 yeah. Speaker 3: 01:09 Go back to where you come from. Um, and that lived with me, continues to live with me again, I'll usually, and, um, I went off to college, heard my friend's father say that he was so joyous to have read a book. Finally, that proved that apes were superior to Negros. I've been reminded again and again and again by one stupid thing after another that, uh, justice is a long way down the road and we've got a long way to go and I'm going to do my best to walk that road until we finally get there. Speaker 2: 01:47 When I, when I think of you and your activism, one of my earliest memories is in elementary school, we were in the library for like reading day, the library and read us a book that was dedicated to Martin Luther King jr. And everyone who walked with him. And I very proudly told the whole class like this book's for my grandpa, my grandpa's who they wrote this for. And I mean, you know, just since, since that day, I've always, I've always been very passionate about things and always, always like, look to you, you know, as like an inspiration as a guidance because you, you, you are, you risked a lot more back then out marching and protesting that I'm risking right now. My, my safety, especially in the San Diego is very minimal, but it doesn't change the fact that I want to speak for you. Like you're not always going to be able to be out there and doing, I mean, you've been doing it for a long time, but I just always want to make sure that there's someone out, out there, you know, speaking from you and like carrying on what you have been working on for your whole life. Speaker 3: 02:47 Well, one of the reasons I was so happy, I was so happy, uh, Sunday at the rally, um, in Santee that my hands and my legs were shaking. It is because you and your friends and a lot of other folks that roughly the same age were out there standing up for a cause that has been one that I know has been worth fighting for for a long time. And that that fight goes on and I am convinced that there is sufficient energy in it that it will go on until we finally have come to real resolution about what racial justice in this country means. Speaker 2: 03:32 So a lot of, I mean, a lot of things to me are kind of, I see a lot of like comparisons to kind of like the current movement, um, and you know, the previous movement, um, both, you know, still fighting for the same things. Um, but how do you think that, like, what are some like kind of big differences, like are the attitudes of like general Americans or like the world or the media different from then to now Speaker 3: 03:54 the major difference is, you know, this thing started in Minneapolis and the incredible range of places where it has now been activated. You know, there've been marches and protests across the world, which is certainly different than what happened during the civil rights movement. There has not been as much violence against the marchers as there were, as there was in the sixties. The other thing is I just have a sense that I can't prove this at the climate of the marchers represents a much broader community than was represented in the marches in the sixties. Um, we were largely black activists with a few white supporters, and I get the impression today. There's a far, far larger number of white supporters. And as well as then the black activists, those are significant because the change comes in my mind around racism because the white folks in that demonstration demonstrations and, and fighting for this cause really need to take this message home, need to talk with their parents and explain and try as best they can to convert them to supporters of real justice and, and real, uh, interracial justice. Speaker 2: 05:20 Yeah. Something I've been seeing a lot. I am willing to willing to bet that I'm on social media, social media, a fair bit more than you are, but a lot of, a lot of the things I've seen well in at least the, the events that I've gone to, there are significantly like the, I would say the crowds are majority white. Um, and a lot of I've seen a lot of like posts and, um, like messages trying to help people start conversations at home. It's like they're giving different, like different talking points and like just different things to say, or, you know, also saying that sometimes people just aren't gonna listen. That's Speaker 3: 05:50 right. And that there was a time actually, when I had given up on education, I just didn't think there any chance that folks were going to change their behaviors so far as race was concerned by being educated. Well, I think it's different if they're being educated by their kids, you know, um, there is a real power in the voice of the youth of this country and that youth, these days is expressing it. Speaker 2: 06:19 Absolutely something too is I I've been thinking about is the difference in like, kind of the preparedness, because in a lot of, a lot of places now, like, um, people who are going out to dump into the demonstrations are bringing like umbrellas or like baking soda or sailing solution, or even have like teams of medics, like they're helping out. Did you guys have stuff like that? Or like what, what kind of organization like went into them? Speaker 3: 06:43 Well, things were really different. The only expectation we had of the police is that they were going to stand on the sidelines and let the rednecks in the community do whatever the world they wanted to do. And so our preparations were made and really our heads trying to figure out what in the world we do. If as a matter of fact, we're physically assaulted by somebody who's really bent on hurting or even killing us. So we, we, we don't, we don't by comparison seem to have gone out prepared. Um, we were prepared to be nonviolent and not to respond namely or with anger, but, um, other than those and those preparations were serious. I mean, there were, we did training on that stuff. So, uh, we were able to hold our temper. Speaker 2: 07:35 Yeah. I think part of the reason today, people are more prepared as they're using like the Hong Kong protests or like other, other things that they've seen and they've been learning from them. Whereas you guys, I don't think had as much examples to follow for Speaker 3: 07:50 if my memory is any good. And it isn't that there were, there were no samples that we had. I mean, we heard of India, um, and the efforts that were made there, but we didn't really feel that personally or see it in, in inaction. So we were going ahead, um, uh, a commitment to social justice on the one hand and nonviolent on the other and making whatever adjustments we had to as we went. Speaker 2: 08:20 Yeah. Um, so with all of your, you know, activism throughout your entire life, is there any advice you'd like to give me or other, you know, young people kind of just starting on their course to hopefully change the world for the better? Speaker 3: 08:35 Yes. Um, it's, it's been willing to find a battle you're worth fighting that is worth we're fighting for that's the single most important piece of advice I have. Don't expect that somebody else is gonna fight the battles and the issues you get yourself ready? You prepare yourself, you get smart, you get courageous, you get out there, you stand up and, and take the heat and make the world a better place. Speaker 4: 09:05 Yeah, Speaker 3: 09:05 that was Richard Lawrence speaking to his granddaughter. Isabella Lawrence. This first person feature was produced by Brooke Ruth.

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Isabella Lawrence, who is 22, has gone to several protests in San Diego County over the last few weeks. Her grandfather, Richard Lawrence, protested during the Civil Rights movement. As part of our "First Person" series, Isabella spoke to her grandfather about the current movement and the movement in the '60s.
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