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Civil rights lessons: Why we need to learn about 1961 to understand 2021.

1 28 7
24.09.2021

I'm USA TODAY editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll, and this is The Backstory, insights into our biggest stories of the week. If you'd like to get The Backstory in your inbox every week, sign up here.

The civil rights legends were dying.

John Lewis, C.T. Vivian and the Rev. Joseph Lowery all passed away in 2020, Lewis and Vivian on the same day.

USA TODAY reporter Deborah Berry has been covering civil and voting rights for most of her career. But now she felt pressure, more so, she felt responsible to share more of their history before the history makers were gone.

"It was like, man, if we don't tell their stories, and if we don't tell them now, when do we tell them," Berry said.

"Even while working on this project, we were losing veterans. People who we had reached out to talk to passed away," Berry said. "I got off the plane in Mississippi and one of the legends died that day."

Berry had hoped to interview Robert "Bob" Moses, a leader in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who worked to empower Black people in Mississippi through voter education efforts and voter registration drives. She was in Mississippi to talk to a friend of his, civil rights activist Hollis Watkins, when she got the news.

Berry and visual journalist Jasper Colt were five minutes away from Watkins' house when his wife told them he couldn't talk, he had just lost one of his best friends.

"It just hit home that even in the midst of working on this they were leaving us and we could no longer tell their stories" from their perspectives, Berry said.

Nearly every few weeks in 1961, there were battles for voting rights and integrating schools, businesses and libraries. Our team focused on seven crucial days,........

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