Exclusive: The story of local civil rights leader jailed for organizing BTW march

NBC 6 Reporter Stephanie Claytor interviews H. Calvin Austin, III in advance of the Civil Rights 50th Anniversary.

Local Civil Rights leaders are hosting a celebration Sept. 18-22 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement in Shreveport. For a complete list of events, click here.

On Sept. 23, 1963, more than a 100 Booker T. Washington High
School students led a prayer vigil for local pastor Rev. Harry Blake, who was beaten by police the day before.

H. Calvin Austin, III was 17 back then, and he took the lead in
organizing the event. The prayer soon turned into a march down Milam Street, and the teens shouted for freedom.
They marched about a block, when they were met by police.

“I looked up and all these police, they started coming toward us
and you thought there were ants,” said Pastor Calvin Austin. “We ran everywhere but it was too late for the 18 of us in front.  The
black police officer pointed to me and told police ‘the N-word was the leader.’ They grabbed me and threw me in the paddy wagon and placed 17 others in there.”

Austin stayed in jail for 45 days. 

“I was abused; I wasn’t sexually abused but I was physically
mistreated.  They knew how to hit you and
not mess up your face,” said Austin.

According to Austin, police beat him for information. They wanted to know who was leading the charge for civil rights in Shreveport. Austin said he refused to tell.

“When I got out of jail, I couldn’t go to school nowhere around
here for 100 miles. I couldn’t even go to Alexandria.”

He moved to New Orleans where a woman took him in and he finished high school.

“When I left Shreveport, I was mad. I was mad at not only white
people but at black folks because nobody stood up and said 'why is that boy still in jail. ' It hurts but I’ve come a
long way.”

Austin went on to receive a full ride to college in Colorado, and
then a PhD. He didn’t return to Shreveport until 1998. He’s now the pastor of Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church.

He says he wouldn’t change what he did because it led to Shreveport being what it is today.

“Shreveport went in a different direction.  The complexion of the city changed, the makeup of the government changed.”

When it comes to fighting for change now, he said marching isn’t the answer. It’s the ballot and your buying power.

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