The Youngest Nonviolent Warrior, Jimmy Webb

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I got a text message from an old friend (one that is a little new to the texting world) who grew up in the 1960s. She and her brother were involved with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and they worked with SNCC when they came to Selma, Alabama in 1963. The text message said, Jimmy Webb is here, come to my house quick.

I couldn’t believe what I was reading, and then again I could. Stuff like this keeps happening to me and my Students UNITE colleagues. Different organizations, civil rights activists, footsoldiers from the Civil Rights Movement, and current social change-makers have been reaching out to us since our launch. So, just like before, another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came knocking and we answered the door as usual.

Jimmy Webb, if you didn’t know, was a young activist in Nashville. In in early 1960s, at the age of twelve, he was involved in James Lawson’s nonviolence trainings and was trained by none other than Lawson himself and “little Gandhi” Bernard LaFayette. He was arrested for the first time when the student movement began with the sit-ins in Nashville in 1961. He was only 16 years old when he traveled to Selma in 1965 to work with the local high school students and marched with them to the Dallas County Courthouse in protest. There is even a brilliant nonviolent interaction between Mr. Webb and the Selma city deputy sheriff that is featured in the documentary “Eyes On The Prize”. Later in life, Jimmy was instrumental in negotiating the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and helped set up the framework for the first Government of National Unity for the Republic of South Africa.

So we got in our make-shift Ford Contour and drove over to our friend’s house where we sat and spoke with Jimmy Webb for almost two hours. He spoke about working with SNCC early on and all that he learned about nonviolence and the transformative effect it has on your enemy if you are willing to suffer and sacrifice. He also spoke about what it was like to be so young and yet so committed to the cause, and we asked him what it would take to get the young people of today moving. He did not want us to underestimate our generation, that we are just as capable as he was back in the 1960s, and maybe even more capable than he was back then. We spoke about politics, his involvement with the Reagan administration and the Nelson Mandela administration.

Our conversation ended with Mr. Webb telling us about a trip he was taking to South Africa. He is building homes for children who lost their mothers and fathers to HIV/AIDS. Many young people in South Africa go through the experience of having to grow up within a short amount of time to take care of their younger siblings, and often times their homes and anything that was stable in their lives is gone in an instant.

Students UNITE is honored to announce that Jimmy Webb, a young freedom fighter and nonviolent warrior, will be a guest speaker at our Jubilee Rally on March 6th, Friday night at Selma High School Auditorium.

We are looking forward to you all meeting this incredible man and to hear his story.

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