Utah civil rights leaders honored

Published: Friday, Jan. 20 2012 10:45 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — The civil rights movement is often associated with figures like Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks and the work done in the South, but Friday night, Utah civil rights heroes were honored for the work they did in the 1950s and '60s. 

The event, held at the Leonardo, honored 50 individuals and featured a panel discussion with Julian Bond, former chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, civil rights activist Jeannine Herron and activist photographers Matt Herron and Tamio Wakayama.

Bond said comparing opportunities he had growing up with those his children and grandchildren have show the successes of the civil rights movement, however, there is still room for improvement.

"There's a great deal that remains to be done," he said. "I didn't think enough people were doing things when I was doing things, but I know there aren't enough now."

Bond worked as the communications director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in college to inform the media of civil rights work being done his organization, a group that received far less attention than King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

"We wanted (Martin Luther King Jr.) to do well, we supported him," Bond said. "He wasn't the totality of the civil rights movement."

Matt Herron, who worked as a photojournalist in the South during the civil rights movement, said the media often portrayed the movement "the way they wanted to." He said said the work done by the nameless activists that goes unrecognized is an important part of the story.

Salt Lake City officials named Jan. 20 as Civil Rights Activist Recognition Day in a resolution read by City Council Chairman Søren Simonsen.

The honorees were grateful for their recognition, but some said it wasn't necessary.

"We were all doing what we could at the time," said Mary Shultz, who accepted the award for her husband, William, who served as NAACP treasurer for 14 years.

Many honorees spoke fondly about the work they did in Utah.

"I worked with the NAACP," Dannie Burnett of Salt Lake City said. "I was secretary and treasurer. We engaged in quite a few marches right here in Salt Lake City."

Burnett recalled growing up in Garfield and being the only African-American athlete at his high school.

"I was really uncomfortable going on athletic trips, wondering if I was going to be discriminating against," he said. "But my white friends, they always came to my aid. They supported me, they sympathized with me. They were my friends."

The Leonardo is currently displaying the exhibit, "This Light of Ours," showcasing the work activist photographers did during civil rights movement. It features photography from the two photographer panelists.

"We're trying to convey to the community what this exhibit is about," said Leslie Kelen, director for the Center for Documentary Expression and Art. "(The civil rights movement) was carried out by ordinary people."

E-mail: hschwarz@desnews.com

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