Incoming freshman Azzie Cunningham joins civil rights leaders for event, including late U.S. Rep. John Lewis

MURRAY, Ky. — Incoming Murray State University freshman Azzie Cunningham from Asheville, North Carolina, joined members of Congress, luminaries, award-winning authors and renowned civil rights activists for the Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage this past spring in Alabama. It would be the last pilgrimage of legendary civil rights leader U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who passed away last month.

Incoming Murray State University freshman Azzie Cunningham from Asheville, North Carolina, joined members of Congress, luminaries, award-winning authors and renowned civil rights activists for the Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage this past spring in Alabama. Pictured from left are Ruby Bridges, the first child integrated into the William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana in 1960, and Azzie.

Cunningham traveled to Mongomery, Birmingham, and Selma, Alabama, to take part in the annual event sponsored by The Faith and Politics Institute. She joined her uncle, U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, and flew from Washington, D.C with more than 40 members of Congress. The group included the late Lewis, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the historical “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965. 

Azzie took part in events over the first weekend of March, including a ceremony honoring Ruby Bridges, who was the first child integrated into the William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana in 1960. Azzie also attended a service at the 16th St. Baptist Church, where a 1963 bombing orchestrated by white supremacists took the lives of four Black children.

On the last day of the pilgrimage, Azzie participated alongside Lewis, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, award-winning author Bryan Stevenson and other dignitaries as they marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge into Selma, Alabama. King and other nonviolent protesters marched the same route to the state capital in 1965, and were met with violent assaults and beatings from armed police. 

The tragic day resulted in the deaths and injuries of civil rights protesters who followed King in his quest for racial equality. 

“It was an experience I will remember until the day I die,” Azzie said. “It was raw and emotional, something every American should experience. It was a time of reflection and to better understand our country’s history.”

Azzie also visited the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, The Legacy Museum, The National Memorial for Peace and Justice and participated in Sunday church service at the Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma. 

Azzie is an award-winning visual artist who co-founded the Black Student Union Club and served as the 2019-20 homecoming queen at her alma mater, A.C. Reynolds High School. She will study political science and visual art at Murray State this fall. She is the granddaughter of retired Kentucky Supreme Court Justice and Racer alumnus Bill Cunningham, ’62, who teaches legal studies and criminal law at the University.

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