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!
Today was a long day of driving as we packed up our campsite and headed up to Monterey Bay! While there weren’t many activities, most of the students enjoyed some time in the pool upon arrival as we gear up for a fun day at the aquarium tomorrow.
On day 3, we fueled up with a hearty hotel breakfast then hit the road towards Joshua Tree. We met with National Park Service Rangers to learn about the beginnings of the park and to help conduct a research study. Students located off-trail tagged Joshua Trees using a GPS device, took various measurements of the trees, and recorded their data. These measurements are used to track these trees’ growth through the years and evaluate their health.
Next we ate our picnic lunches and began our tour through the park. We got off the bus to take a short hike through the Hidden Valley, explore a cholla cactus garden, and arrived at the Cottonwood campground. Students set up their tents and the dinner team began cooking. We ended the night with campfire s’mores and stargazing- we saw some incredible constellations in the dark desert sky!
On day 4, we packed up camp, ate breakfast, and started driving towards the Coachella valley. After a quick stop for coffee, we hiked in Thousand Palms and saw some incredible trees! Next we headed to Cabot’s Pueblo Museum where we took an audio tour through a handcrafted homestead. We drove to our campsite in the Morongo Valley and set up camp.
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.
As we made our way towards the end of this busy week, our group took a leisurely start on Thursday. Packing ourselves up, we stopped at the Deluxe Town Diner (full disclosure, this is Ms. Resler’s favorite breakfast spot in the Northeast) before heading to Amherst, MA.
Finally, it was (relatively) warm and sunny and we arrived in town with enough time to wander around (more bookstores) and get a little familiar with the shops and restaurants surrounding the college. A brief walk from the downtown to the college revealed exactly the kind of New England college campus the area is famous for: brick buildings, rolling lawns, the details of old buildings we’ve gotten so familiar with on our own campus!
With a workout up and down the hills of the college, we found ourselves in a chapel for an extensive info-session. This thorough presentation got us ready to head back out into the fresh air, exploring campus on our own and enjoying all the incredible architecture with vistas of the mountainous Pioneer Valley.
After Amherst, out tired but happy feet made our way back to the Inn on Boltwood–a lovely hotel featuring fireplaces, cozy nooks, and comfy rooms that made our last overnight of the week a special one (also because with a late lunch we all had cookies for dinner at Insomina Cookies–an essential business for a college town)!
Bright and early in the morning we said farewell to our fancy digs, some with a brief game of chess, and drove to our last visit of the week: William’s College!
Arriving in another incredible picturesque setting, our visit began with a tour: once again we loved the architecture, and our tour guide’s informative talk about favorite buildings, life on campus, the library, a little walk through Williamstown and more!
Back at the admissions building, the group set up in a circle in the admissions living room for an info-session with plenty of time for our questions. With a tip from the William’s staff, chaperones Sydney and Ms. Resler headed downtown to pick up an assortment of salads and sandwiches for lunch while the students caught up with recent Emma Willard graduate Rachel Schmidt ’21!
Piling back into our van, spirits high from our excellent Williams experience, we enjoyed the drive through the winter countryside before arriving back on campus: home (just in time for a fire drill test)!
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 . . . .”
Today we packed up from LA and headed to Palm Springs en route to Joshua Tree National Park. Despite the rain, we were able to get in a 3.75 mile hike on a mountain in Palm Springs. The skies cleared up just in time to give us some beautiful views!
Greetings, all! This is Ms. Halfi reporting (from Troy) on behalf of the California trip. Heard great news from the Envoys field operator in charge of the trip:
“All is well in California! The group is happy to have arrived, if a little tired from their travels and the jet lag. They met up with Envoys program leaders at the airport and had some time to freshen up in the bathrooms and have some snacks before boarding their bus. They went to Venice Beach to conduct their program briefing and the creation of their full value contract, and then had time to explore the Santa Monica Pier and the surrounding neighborhood in small groups. They met back for dinner and then headed to the hotel to check in and go to bed.”
She also reported that today (Tuesday) marks the beginning of their journey towards Joshua Tree state park. Due to a forecast of very high winds in the Joshua Tree area tonight, they have re-routed their plans to camp tonight to instead board in a nearby hotel. Camping will still happen after tonight, though, as the forecast looks much milder from here on in.
Keep checking back here for updates from the trip participants throughout the week!
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!