Gary Yerkey ’66 reflects on how historic march led to Voting Rights Act of 1965

“The first time I made ‘good trouble’”, a reflective piece written by Gary Yerkey ’66 of Washington, D.C., was published today, Aug. 2, in The Christian Science Monitor.

The essay is related to Yerkey’s participation, along with other Ripon students and the Rev. Herman Jerome “Jerry” Thompson, then the College chaplain, in the historic Selma-to-Montgomery march for civil rights in March 1965.

Friday, Aug. 6, marks the anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The act forbade “discriminatory voter registration policies and practices that had disenfranchised millions of Black Americans. It is widely thought that the president and Congress would not have acted so quickly, if at all, had it not been for Selma,” Yerkey writes.

Yerkey describes his motivation for joining the Ripon College contingent and what his experience still means to him and the world more than 50 years later.

John Lewis, a leader of the movement, once told Yerkey that, “in his opinion, the Selma-to-Montgomery march had a profound impact on America’s psyche, and that white students from the North had played a crucial role in the success of the march.

“Throughout his life, Mr. Lewis had urged anyone who would listen to make ‘good trouble, necessary trouble’ — nonviolent trouble — in the fight for justice.

“Now, more than 50 years later, I am at a loss to satisfactorily explain what drew me to Mr. Thompson’s office that day in early March 1965, and from there to Selma. It certainly had something to do with his inspiring passion for justice and for lifting up others. It was also the cause being pursued. … In Selma I had learned for the first time a real-life lesson in the importance of sometimes making ‘good trouble, necessary trouble.’”

Yerkey majored in philosophy at Ripon. Among many career roles, he served as The Christian Science Monitor’s Brussels-based correspondent from 1975 to 1987.

(Photo: Gary Yerkey ’66 in Selma, Alabama)

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