Indiana State University Newsroom

Concert on Feb. 22 honors accomplishments of civil rights movement

February 11, 2015

An Indiana State University concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of landmark civil rights legislation aims to bridge the progress the country has made with the work still ahead.

The anniversary has special meaning for alumnus Bill Powell, '70, who on May 1, 1969, staged a sit-in along with five other black students and a white student in the vice president's office -- and became a part of what's now called the "Magnificent Seven."

The students were upset about a variety of social injustices, including inequality for female students' rights, lack of recognition for black fraternities and sororities and the university not assisting minority faculty members looking for housing.

"We got together and said we had to have a meaningful demonstration," Powell recalled.

That demonstration culminated in shutting down the university's administration building and about 500 students walking out of classes.

"It was unnerving on one hand -- we didn't know if we were going to jail or if we were going to get kicked out of school," Powell said. "It inspired a number of students to not only support us, but also to walk out of class."

The sit-in, followed by more demonstrations and unrest, led to the establishment of an African and African-American studies program at Indiana State, among other changes. The still-ongoing interdisciplinary program, approved in August 1972, was one of the first in the nation.

"I learned that it didn't take a whole lot of people to be effective," Powell said. "I learned some things about leadership. Rather than tell people where they want to go, you find out where they want to go and help them get there. That becomes effective leadership."

Actions such as Powell's and other activists during the civil rights movement in America will be commemorated -- in music, visuals and word -- during a free concert set for 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22 at the historic Indiana Theatre.

"New Morning for the World: Daybreak of Freedom," a composition by Joseph Schwantner for narrator and orchestra (transcribed for wind ensemble), is among the pieces selected for the concert. The arrangement uses excerpts from the Rev. Martin Luther King's speeches as its focal point. The music is dramatic, intense and poignant, as it seeks to represent the great words of the fallen civil rights leader.

Christopher Olsen, professor and chair of Indiana State's history department, will narrate the work. Accompanying the performance will be a compilation of dramatic and moving images of the '60s in film, including the Selma march and many of the well-known images that have become symbols of those turbulent times.

As part of the celebration, additional photographs and artwork commemorating civil rights in Terre Haute as well as across the nation will be on display in the theater's lobby. A reception, 5-7 p.m., will precede the event.

Indiana State senior Gregory Jacks, a music performance major from Fishers, is among the ensemble that will perform at the concert -- the significance of which isn't lost on him.

"Fifty years ago, I probably would not be in this room," Jacks said. "It makes me grateful for the opportunities I've been given, and it makes me grateful that I'm even taken into consideration for scholarships and that I'm able to play music at the level I can. It makes me proud of what I've accomplished so far -- and what people like me have been able to accomplish so far with the Civil Rights Act."

Jacks, a recipient of the George M. Graesch Scholarship and member of the Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia music fraternity, says music was an unlikely course for him. Trumpet was actually his third choice of instruments, and throughout middle school, he was just an average performer.

"My first year of marching band, for the first few months, I hated it. I thought, ‘I want to get out of here. I want to quit my instrument and run track and be cool again,'" Jacks said. "I don't know exactly what it was, but after a while, something hit me when I was doing marching band and I stopped hating the instrument. That's when I started to love music and love what I did. From that day forward, I decided to work really hard on the instrument."

Albeit much different circumstances, Jacks' experiences of being a part of a musical ensemble has taught him similar life lessons as those Powell acquired at Indiana State.

"Once I was in that marching band setting ... I realized you're taking a hundred or so people who didn't really like each other that much, they were bickering, they weren't really mature and teaching them not only musical concepts, but how to live, how to be adults, how to resolve our issues in a civilized manner, how to take responsibility for our actions," he said.

Both men agree much work is yet to be done to achieve true racial and social equality.

"I think we have some of the same problems in different (forms). We have the same economic problems," Powell said, referencing a large percentage of minorities living below the poverty line and few minority-owned businesses.

Powell, a Navy veteran, went on to earn a master's degree from Michigan State and conducted doctoral studies at the University of Maryland. In retirement, he has earned a second bachelor's degree in renewable energy and is working on his master's in the same field. He hopes to start his own renewable energy company.

"I think what we need to do is first of all, we as black people need to reach out to other ethnic groups and pull them in," Powell said. "It doesn't work anymore for us to say we're going to do our own thing. We have to reach out to other people."

Respecting each other's rights is key, Jacks said.

"It's a bit discouraging to have been taught that now the Civil Rights Act has been passed that African-Americans have rights and things will change," Jacks said. "They have changed ... but at the core of things, people will feel the way they want to feel and have their right to their opinion. And they get that right as an American, even though I may not agree with them."

As much as things have changed, Powell wishes a few things were still the same as his Indiana State days. He enjoyed a personal relationship with many of his professors, who were happy to share their political and cultural philosophies with him. That's not necessarily the case with his current student experience.

"Good conversation had a premium value," Powell said. "Any (Indiana State) instructor I had dealings with was willing to talk. They encouraged me, and somehow, they saw something in me and told me to go on."


Photos: -- Indiana State School of Music students, including Gregory Jacks, second from left, rehearse for a concert commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. -- Indiana State School of Music students, led by Director Roby George, rehearse for a concert commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. -- Indiana State School of Music students rehearse for a concert commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. -- The Magnificent Seven is pictured in the vice president's office in 1969.

Contact: Roby George, associate professor and director of bands, School of Music, Indiana State University, or 812-237-2771

Writer: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or