Athens Human Rights Festival (May 14-15, 2011)

The 33rd Athens Human Rights Festival will be held today and tomorrow (May 14-15, 2011) in downtown Athens, GA. The festival starts Saturday at 10am and ends Sunday at 10pm. Featured are singers, songwriters, speakers, and artists. Join DIA (Dignidad Inmigrante en Athens) for two days of celebrating human rights, human dignity, and solidarity.

History of the Athens Human Rights Festival (from the official Athens Human Rights Festival website)

The University of Georgia Free Speech Task Force organized the Memorial Students’ Rights Festival at Legion Field on Friday, May 4, 1979 to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the Kent State murders. Gene Guerrero (Director – Georgia American Civil Liberties Union) urged students to oppose the reinstatement of the draft. gg attorney Hue Henry criticized UGA President Fred Davison’s “pattern of arrogance” and supported the Free Speech Task Force’s lawsuit against the Board of Regents’ policy of preventing students from addressing Board meetings. Gary Appelson (Athenians for Clean Energy) appealed for unity to fight nuclear power. Promoting solar energy, Appelson said, “We think we are free to go to war and to interfere in the Middle East. Americans are oil junkies.” Tommy Jordan played acoustic guitar and has performed at every festival since.

In 1980 the name of the event was changed to the Human Rights Festival and this later would be recognized as the 2nd annual festival. “Human Rights Awareness Day” was proclaimed by Athens Mayor Lauren Coile. The May 3 festival featured Millard Farmer, an Atlanta civil rights attorney and death penalty opponent who has been a popular speaker at numerous festivals. Head of the Team Defense Project and best known as defender of the Dawson Five in 1977 (five young African-Americans accused of murdering a white farm foreman during a Terrell County grocery store robbery), Farmer stressed the need for “a human rights year and a human rights life, not just a human rights day.” Another featured speaker at the 2nd annual festival was local Athens attorney and political rising star, Michael Thurmond. Entertainment for the Saturday ten hour event included the Omowale Contemporary Dancers, Josh Olsen (another festival veteran), Turtle Bay, Phil and the Blanks, and Grains of Sand. UGA art professor and early festival supporter Richard Olsen painted two large murals and displayed them on Legion Field, one depicting the horrors of war.

In 1981 a number of national speakers were invited, including David Dellinger (WWII conscientious objector and Chicago Seven defendant), Sonia Johnson (excommunicated from Mormon Church for supporting ERA), Sidney Lens (anti-war activist, author, and former chairman of the Illinois Impeach Nixon Committee), Anna Gyorgy (founder of anti-nuke organization, the Clamshell Alliance and later director of the Critical Mass Energy Project), Reverend Charles Koen (VP of Southern Christian Leadership Conference), and James Zogby (Coalition for Peace and Justice in the Middle East now known as the American-Arab Alliance). Dave Dellinger warned, “If the world is going to survive, the resurgence of the peace movement must continue.” Sonia Johnson said, “The Mormons believe God ordained men to be the rulers of the world. So if men are born rulers, guess who’s left over to be the rulees. Women put in two-thirds of the world’s work and for this they receive one-tenth of the world’s money. That is the statistic of slavery.” Athens journalist and radical activist Ed Tant introduced David Dellinger and later delivered his usual fiery oratory. Elton Manzione (Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Grass Roots Organizing Workshop – GROW) spoke from his experience as a Navy SEAL. Four local bands, the Little Tigers, One Eye Open, Red Scare, and Turtle Bay, played at the third annual festival on May 2, 1981.

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