Students mark 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday

Lewis University students mark 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday

Published: March 30, 2015.

(L to R) William Riley, Sean Ruane, Alexis Pullins, Lexi Austrig
and Gianna Capperino walk over Edmund Pettus Bridge.

What would it have been like to walk over the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965, a day commonly referred to as “Bloody Sunday?” Four Lewis students and two group leaders found out when they went to Selma, Ala. during their Spring Break March 2-9. They were participants on the first Lewis University Civil Rights Social Justice Pilgrimage.

Lewis University students Lexi Austring, Gianna Capperino, Alexis Pullins, and William Riley were present for President Obama’s March 7 speech in Selma and participated in the March 8 historic 50th anniversary march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Dr. Dennis H. Cremin, professor of history, and Sean Ruane, the coordinator of social justice education in University Ministry, coordinated and led the Lewis University pilgrimage.

During the week-long experience, the group visited Christian Brothers University and the site of The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in Memphis. They explored the 16th Street Baptist Church and Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, and Dexter Baptist Church, the Alabama State Capitol, and the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery. Students capped off the experience with the 50th anniversary events in Selma.

“It was a historic, life-changing experience,” Riley, an aviation student from Chicago described.

Austring, from Maine, added the pilgrimage was empowering and the experience of a lifetime. “I will always remember this monumental occasion through all that we saw and especially how it felt to stand on the Edmund Pettus Bridge where such historical change was made.”

Cremin, who offered the academic workshop portion of the pilgrimage “Perspectives on the Civil Rights Movement,” commented that the combination and collaboration of History and University Ministry was a highlight of the experience. He continued, “If you think of King, or other Civil Rights leaders, such as Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth—who was a recipient of an honorary doctorate from Lewis University—many of these history makers were religious leaders. It helps to provide a key insight into the movement.”

Sean Ruane, who led the faith-based component of the pilgrimage, said of the experience, “Students had the opportunity to walk in the shoes of major figures like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. However, they also got to see that the Civil Rights movement was not just the work of a few major figures, but ultimately, it was powered by the everyday people who participated in marches, sit-ins, and non-violent protests. Through their shining example of courage, self-sacrifice, and non-violent protest, our students were inspired and empowered to be advocates for change in the world today.”

Lewis University Ministry is also coordinating a May social justice pilgrimage. Ruane is collaborating with Dr. Jennifer Buntin, assistant professor of sociology, on the U.S./Mexico Border Pilgrimage May 10-15. Contact Sean Ruane, the coordinator of social justice education in University Ministry, at (815)836-5868 or for more information.

Lewis University is a Catholic university in the Lasallian tradition offering distinctive undergraduate and graduate programs to more than 6,700 traditional and adult students. Lewis offers multiple campus locations, online degree programs, and a variety of formats that provide accessibility and convenience to a growing student population. Sponsored by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, Lewis prepares intellectually engaged, ethically grounded, globally connected, and socially responsible graduates. The seventh largest private not-for-profit university in Illinois, Lewis has been nationally recognized by The Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report. Visit for further information.

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