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Credit: Joy Lee

Civil rights advocate James McFadden, who has been a key player in the fight for racial equality for decades, spoke with Penn students about the presence of racism today at an event on Feb. 26.  

As Black History Month comes to a close, Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation, Civic House, and the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity organized the talk, in which McFadden discussed his experience as a student social activist. 

College junior Chris Harrison, a Phi Beta Sigma member, said that he felt that it was important to have a speaker give insight on the Civil Rights Movement in light of Black History Month.

As a student at Alabama State University, McFadden, along with two brothers of Phi Beta Sigma, joined the efforts of "sit-in" protests at the racially-segregated dining halls of Montgomery County Courthouse, as described in ASU Today Magazine. After policemen arrested them, the university's president “complied” to the State Board of Education’s decision to expel nine student leaders of the protest. 

Fifty years later, when the university retracted the expulsion, McFadden and his fraternity brothers finally received their ASU diplomas in May 2010 at its regular graduation.

Credit: Joy Lee

Even after five decades, however, racial inequality still exists today, and African Americans still “haven’t got the first base,” McFadden said. 

Insulting has become "encoded" in society, McFadden said, adding that the “dangerous" culture that puts “white folks against black folks” and “men against women” has persevered ever since. 

In creating a new culture, he discussed the importance of college students taking a stance. “You can be quiet today, but it’s gonna be right on your doorsteps tomorrow,” he added. 

Credit: Joy Lee

The main purpose of the talk was to inspire students to “create positive change in our community,” Wharton junior Michael Beavers, a member of Phi Beta Sigma, said. 

Audience members asked questions, such as how to take a stance as a college student.  

McFadden said that one should find guiding principles and surround oneself with people with active ideas, “linking up with like minds.”

In an interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian, McFadden said that organizing these kinds of talks is the first step to creating a supportive environment to express social advocacy on a college campus.  

Regarding the recent controversy on gun violence, McFadden said in the talk that it takes "young people like you" to create a "counter society that puts human beings first."  

“Quest for freedom and justice keeps me going,” McFadden said in closing remarks. “It’s up to all of us that we do something to move forward.”

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