As people across the country continue the search for equality, an icon of the Civil Rights’ movement lives on one of Russellville’s streets. Dr. Charles Neblett began his crusade for equality nearly sixty years ago. He was moved to do so by what he saw and the tragedy it left. A young man himself at the age of fourteen, he witnessed the death of a young black man thought to have whistled at a white women. The images of that moment stayed with him through the years. He began a group called the Freedom Singers.

Dr. Neblett marched at the same time as the late Representative John Lewis in Selma. Dr. Neblett marched in Washington and witnessed Dr. Martin Luther King’s iconic “I have a dream” speech. He said Dr. King was kind of a “big brother” to them. As young people again have taken to the streets, Dr. Neblett has a unique perspective to what is going on today in America. It begs to question, has anything changed?

“Nothing has changed,” he said. “Before you couldn’t vote. Now they are making it hard to vote. You have young black kids really (going) from the school house to the jailhouse.”

He continued with, “I got to praise young people for getting up and responding. If the leaders in this community want to be leaders and they want to do right, they will join in these young people, and at least give them courage.”

In June, the young people did respond. They organized a Black Lives Matter protest on the streets of Russellville, beginning at Fifth and Morgan and took it to the former courthouse downtown. Members of the police department marched along side the protesters, but since then, things have become quiet again. What could have been a catalyst and an opportunity for local government to begin making changes to end systemic and structural racism in our community was instead a placation of sorts. Perhaps it will be assumed all will return to as it was and has always been, with no more push from Black youth. Until Black Lives Matter, how can all lives matter?

There are many real symbols of years of segregation and structural racism in the community. Besides the obvious Civil War Confederate Soldier, which looks out over the Square, if you travel further away from the Square, one can see how things have truly not changed. The streets narrow to where it is nearly impossible if two cars meet, for each to pass. The sidewalks that exist are just broken pieces of concrete from years of disrepair.

Outside of Dr. Neblett’s front window, he can look across the street and see the backs of other homes. The homes are facing the wrong way, away from the street in an undrawn dividing line between the black and white neighborhoods.

Dr. Neblett and Marvinia Neblett’s son, Kamero, spoke at the Black Lives Matter protest about how basic infrastructure points to a lack of action by local government.

He said, “When it comes to just the sizes of the sidewalks or whatever, you have to actually say this was how this developed and we are sorry about this. We are also going to give money to change this. And without that exchange of money, to correct infrastructure, you are really not saying anything.”

Speaking about even the water lines, Dr. Neblett said, “The water lines, some water lines in the black neighborhoods haven’t been changed. And if you notice, the streets get narrower.”

Kamero Neblett said, “The issue is that there hasn’t been this acknowledgment that discrimination happened in the Black community and without the acknowledgment, you can’t even address it.

Without it and these things persist, right, so even though it feels like a long time ago, our children are still experiencing the discrimination that happened many, many years ago. So in essence, it continues if we don’t saying something about it. Almost like you are condoning how everything was, because you are allowing it to persist today.”