Just as it was fitting to start the civil rights tour of the South with Dr. King’s birth home, it felt right to end the tour in Memphis, where Dr. King was assassinated. We also took in Memphis’s cultural scene by visiting the STAX Soul Music Museum and by exploring Beale Street. And who could resist watching the infamous Peabody Ducks march on their red carpet runway at the Peabody Hotel?
On Saturday we visited the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, explored the River Market for lunch, and then participated in a National Park Service tour of Central High School. We were captivated by Ranger Rebecca’s telling of the story of the Little Rock Nine. Students were surprised to discover that the school is still a functioning school! Afterwards we spoke with Ms. Cameron, the librarian, and with Dr. Newkirk, a history teacher at Central High School. We stopped for an ice cream break before heading to Memphis.
We shortened our stay in Jackson, Mississippi, in order to get to Little Rock, Arkansas, before the worst of the weather. We were disappointed not to have had more time at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, but we did learn more about Medgar Evers and James Meredith while we were there, and we listened to Fannie Lou Hamer’s testimony last night. Shortly after arriving at our hotel, the tornado siren sounded, and we gathered in the lobby with other guests but were soon cleared to return to our rooms. Seeing the destruction on the news this morning so close to where we traveled yesterday made Christine and me very glad that the two students who wanted to re-route our trip in order to see a tornado were outvoted!
In Birmingham we toured the 16th Street Baptist Church, the site of the Ku Klux Klan bombing that killed four young black girls: Addie Mae Collins (14), Cynthia Wesley (14), Carole Robertson (14), and Carol Denise McNair (11). Before visiting the church and the Civil Rights Museum, we toured Kelly Ingram Park, the historical assembly point for many marches, sit-ins, boycotts, and jailings. At the end of the day, we had a good discussion about which event we thought was the catalyst of the Civil Rights Movement: the murder of Emmett Till or the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.,
Today we were honored to learn about the Freedom Riders, activists who participated in the interstate bus rides in 1961 to protest segregated public transportation in the south. We then visited the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Everyone said the Legacy Museum and National Memorial were the most powerful experiences we have had so far.
In Selma, Alabama, we were able to walk the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of “Bloody Sunday” fifty-eight years ago. Feeling gratitude for all of the foot soldiers who marched to eventually lead to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. After a powerful tour of the Slavery and Civil Rights Museum that highlighted the Middle Passage stage of the Atlantic slave trade, we headed to Montgomery, Alabama. There we visited the Rosa Parks Museum and toured the Southern Poverty Law Center. As we explored the impact of hate groups around the nation, we were inspired by Dr. King’s quote above the Civil Rights Memorial, “Until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream . . . .”
It makes sense that one of the first stops of the Civil Rights Away Program would be at the birth home of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After absorbing the rich history provided by the King Center and the Tomb of Martin Luther King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, we headed to the birth home of Dr. King, where we learned about his childhood. Students were also able to enjoy another place Atlanta is known for: the World of Coca-Cola museum!
Before leaving campus, we prepared for our trip with a day of learning about the Civil Rights movement, with students researching the locations and topics we will encounter so that they can serve as “experts” for the rest of us at each stop on our tour. After dinner at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack, a trip to the Georgia Aquarium, and a good night’s sleep, we look forward to the King Center and the beginning of our Civil Rights journey.