USA TODAY live 1961 events highlight civil rights wins, showcase musicians, activists, poets – USA TODAY

Who gets to vote and why?

Who is standing in the way of progress?

How can we work together to create a more equitable nation?

USA TODAY grappled with these questions during a series of live events featuring civil rights activists from today and the 1960s. The events were part of the “Seven Days of 1961” multimedia project, which spotlights seven pivotal protests in 1961 that helped create a foundation for the civil rights movement and end legal segregation. This sprawling effort was published from September through December and included text stories, a podcast series, graphic novels, videos, an augmented reality experience and more. 

You can watch highlights from the events in September, November and December here:

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Seven Days of 1961: Live events trailer

This series of events is part of USA TODAY’s “Seven Days of 1961” project, a multimedia series spotlighting seven pivotal civil rights protests.


The events sought to pay homage to mass meetings held during the civil rights era, when organizers would rally freedom fighters with music, first-hand stories of being in the struggle and sermons.

The first event, titled “Freedom Now: How Institutions of Power Fuel and Stall Change,” included a musical performance from Charles Neblett, one of the original Freedom Singers, and a reading from Tracy K. Smith, a former poet laureate of the United States. The panelists included Ja’Mal Green, a Chicago Black Lives Matter activist; Georgia state Sen. Kimberly S. Jackson; Brenda Travis, an NAACP student leader in the 1960s; and Gerard Robinson, vice president for education at the Advanced Studies in Culture Foundation at the University of Virginia. Daphne Chamberlain, an associate professor of history at Tougaloo College, and Deborah Barfield Berry, USA TODAY national correspondent on race and politics, moderated the event. 

The second event, titled “Power to the people: How voting laws have shaped the United States and Black America,” featured panelists Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP; community activist Nupol Kiazolu; civil rights veteran Ruby Nell Sales; Valerie Jarrett, president of the Barack Obama Foundation and chair of Civic Nation; and U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams of Georgia. The Florida A&M University Concert Choir performed. 

The third event, titled “A change is gonna come: civil rights leaders on how to fight for freedom,” included panelists U.S. Rep. James Clyburn; Courtland Cox, the former leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; Arekia Bennett, executive director of the youth civic engagement organization Mississippi Votes; and LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter Fund. The event featured performances from the Morgan State University Choir and award-winning poet Evie Shockley.