By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Fifty years ago today, young people led by then NAACP President Cecil B. Moore began an act of defiance that opened the gates of Girard College to students of color, and some of the Freedom Fighters’ will re-enact that historic day this morning.
The protests began in the wee hours of May 1, 1965.
“We were just surprised to see cops, police officers toe to toe, all the way around,” says Kenneth Salaam — who was 16 years old at the time and was one of the first protesters who picketed at the gates. “About 25 the first day and then it began to swell.”
In a dangerous act of defiance, he says this brought the ire of police:
“A young lady and her sister were run over by the motorcycles, but, again, we didn’t stop.”
Also age 16 at the time, Karen Asper grew up at 26th and Thompson. She says they stopped marching when the city sued to admit black students, and celebrated three years later when the school welcomed its first black students. Fifty years later, she’s standing at the walls once more.
“It chokes you up, because you know you made a difference,” she says.
Kelvin Kelly was just 13 when he began picketing outside of Girard College.
“I got to know Cecil B. Moore when I was a kid. I used to shine his shoes…laughing,” he says.
Kelly joined the dozens and then hundreds who defied police to circle the 40-plus acre campus.
Eugene Dawkins was about 18 when he says police attacked some of the protesters:
“They hollered ‘get ’em, that’s him’!”
Dawkins was beaten unconscious, but the marching didn’t stop. They walked for seven months and seventeen days.
The Freedom Fighters will spend Friday morning re-enacting that historic march at Girard College.