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Atlanta Student Coalition Releases “A New Appeal for Human Rights”

CREDIT: Laura Emiko Soltis

This morning, a coalition of student activists in Atlanta released “A New Appeal for Human Rights,” a powerful declaration that articulates the various human rights violations experienced by students from marginalized communities. The document is modeled after the original 1960 “Appeal for Human Rights” written by Atlanta student leaders Roslyn Pope, President of the Student Body of Spelman College, and signed by student leaders of the Atlanta Student Movement. In the preamble of “A New Appeal for Human Rights,” the students declare: “We, as students who belong to Black, Latinx, Asian, Undocumented, Muslim, LGBTQIA+, and ally communities, have formed a coalition in Atlanta to assert our human rights and resist structures and assumptions that criminalize our existence.”

In the past few years, youth activism has boomed across the country, and the city of Atlanta – the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement, is no exception. As a result of increased student activism surrounding the Movement for Black Lives, the Undocumented Student Movement, the Sanctuary Campus Movement, Fight for 15, and other organizing efforts, Freedom University – a modern freedom school for undocumented students – became a meeting ground for students interested in building coalitions across movements. Under the guidance of Freedom University’s director, Dr. Laura Emiko Soltis, and veterans of the Atlanta Student Movement, two generations of activists came together to compile the “New Appeal for Human Rights,” an interracial and intergenerational project aimed at articulating human rights violations experienced by this generation.

On March 9, 1960, Roslyn Pope completed the original Appeal for Human Rights and worked with Julian Bond, who typed out the document in the home of historian and social activist, Howard Zinn. This document sparked the Atlanta-based student activism of the Civil Rights Movement, including the boycott of Rich’s Department Store, sit-ins across Atlanta, and the desegregation of Georgia public universities. While the 1960 Appeal for Human Rights was a catalyst for Civil Rights Movement organizing, it was innovative in its application of the human rights framework to advocate for the rights of African Americans. Rather than using civil rights language based upon citizens’ relation to the U.S. government, a human rights language situated their movement within a global struggle based on the idea that all people have human rights based on their humanity. These principles were articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was declared by the United Nations just 12 years before in December 1948.

During her time as a student at Spelman College, Dr. Roslyn Pope returned from a study abroad opportunity in Europe. In Europe, she felt what it was like to be respected as a human being for the first time. This experience emphasized the need to articulate human rights rather than only civil rights. Dr. Pope remembers returning to Atlanta from Paris. She said, “I began to seek a means of liberation. I couldn’t return to a pre-Paris existence. The time had come for us to stand up for our Humanity. Along with other like-minded students, the Atlanta Student Movement took flight.”

In the New Appeal for Human Rights, the coalition outlines the forms of discrimination, inequality, and violence people of color and other marginalized communities are facing in Atlanta, Georgia, and across the country. Based on the categories outlined in the original appeal, today’s coalition articulated human rights violations relating to discrimination, education, voting, housing, healthcare, law enforcement, religious freedom, and worker’s rights. In each section, the coalition connects issues of police brutality, mass incarceration, racial profiling, gentrification, and others to specific violations of human rights as articulated in international human rights law. Using evidence and claims provided by a variety of research organizations and modern social movements, including the Movement for Black Lives, the Housing Justice League, the Georgia Not One More Coalition, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Freedom University, and #ATLisReady, the New Appeal bridges the experiences of other groups and movements to find common ground in an intersectional, intergenerational call for human rights.

In response to the New Appeal, Chairman of the Atlanta Student Movement of 1960-1961, Dr. Lonnie King says, “Opponents of African Americans being included under the umbrella of freedom, justice, and equality have been waging a relentless, campaign to overturn all the gains that were achieved in the 1960s. However, the document written by this new generation of student activists clearly illustrates that the quest for a ‘just’ society continues to this day.”

To conclude their New Appeal, the coalition states, “We stand in solidarity with each other and will protect each other. To come for one of us is to come for all of us. In honor of the courageous students who came before us, and those who will lead the struggle after us, we commit ourselves to carrying on the fight for human rights as long as injustice exists anywhere. None of us are free until all of us are free.”

The full text of the New Appeal for Human Rights can be read here.

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