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Civil rights activist Sheyenne Webb gives students powerful history lesson

Fifth graders at Oak Grove Elementary School got a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience with Sheyenne Webb's account of becoming a Civil Rights activist.

PEACHTREE CITY, Ga. — School libraries are filled with stories of places and times, but there’s nothing like learning history from a person who lived it.

A few days before the year ended, fifth graders at Oak Grove Elementary School had a special visitor.

“I met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and I knew that a change was about to come,” said Sheyenne Webb-Christburg, Civil Rights activist. She is also known as MLK's "Smallest Freedom Fighter."

The Peachtree City students will never forget the day they got to hear her talk about her experience as a young activist during a prominent time in history.

They gathered on the floor of the media center for a once-in-a-lifetime learning moment.

“Sometimes you have to take chances on doing the right thing. That is my message," Webb-Christburg said. “That is what I did as a little girl.”

She was in elementary school, just like her audience, when she first met Dr. King and the people he inspired to be part of the civil rights movement. She became known as his smallest freedom fighter.

There is video of her sitting on Dr. King’s lap. He asked her why she wanted to be involved. 

“I want to see people be free,” she answered in a small voice. She was seven years old.

They met in her hometown of Selma, Alabama. She wanted to be a part of a change – no matter her age. 

"You had to be brave, you had to be strong and you had to have courage,” Webb-Christburg recalled. “This little girl had to have that courage.”

Webb-Christburg would sneak out to go to meetings leading up to a moment that would change her life and help change the world.

She had just turned eight when she left a note for her parents on the counter that said she was going to march for voting rights.  

She joined hundreds of adults as just a child on the bridge on Bloody Sunday in Selma. She witnessed the turning point in history right in front of her young eyes.

“Being the youngest little girl in that march,” Webb-Christburg said, “This little girl saw police with tear gas and holding billy clubs in their hands and my heart began to beat fast.” Webb-Christburg said. 

As a child, she remembers the fear -- and her moment of bravery.

“I was frightened, I was scared, but I was determined to stay there and face whatever challenges we met," she said. "And that’s what I did."

She said as it got more dangerous and foot soldiers like John Lewis were brutally hurt, Hosea Williams scooped her up and carried her to safety.  

Webb-Christburg, Williams and Lewis were close friends until the men passed away.

Hearing the story of someone their age – living history – being part of a change made a huge impact.

Students said they were touched to hear her recount Bloody Sunday, even describing it as "sad but beautiful." Others said they look up to her perseverance.

Webb-Christburg was touched to hear the students' responses.

"There is so much more to do,” she said with encouragement. “I want to challenge you today that you know you are not too young to make a difference.”

Her account of her experiences inspired the next generation of leaders. 

“Keep hope alive. Keep working hard and always know you matter," Webb-Christburg said. 

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