Civil Rights Pilgrimage 2010

During Spring Break 2010, students, faculty and staff are taking an eight-day bus ride to the American South’s civil rights landmarks, with stops in Little Rock, Arkansas; Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham, Alabama; Jackson and Oxford, Mississippi; and Memphis, Tennessee. They will be led by Ray Jordan of the Office of the Chaplain and Religious Life; Dennis Simon, associate professor of political science in Dedman College; and junior Linwood Fields, a political science and English major who participated in the 2009 pilgrimage.

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“Trail of tears”

RonCivilRightsPilgrimage.jpg An update from Master of Liberal Studies student Ron:

This morning we toured the National Voting Rights Museum at the base of the Edmund Pettus Bridge heading out of Selma to Montgomery. This is probably where many of the Alabama troopers parked their cars and horse trailers preparing to block the marchers to Montgomery on Bloody Sunday.

Dr. Simon and Ray Jordan say there is always an “ah hah” moment for you on this trip. Don’t know whether this was my “ah hah” day, but it had to be pretty close.

Growing up in the late 1960s and early 1970s near Kansas City, Missouri, most of my white community friends thought segregation was morally wrong and would walk away when someone told a racist joke or story and shake their head. But what they never understood was the “Black Pride” African-Americans spoke about. After my tour at the museum yesterday, it finally made sense to me.

photo-9.jpg At the museum there are hundreds of photos depicting many of the marches and confrontations the Civil Rights foot soldiers and leaders endured. The photos seem to glare back at you as you see people pushed and shoved, beaten and attacked by police dogs … many with blood running down their faces, some lifting the caskets of dead comrades. (In photo: Viola Liuzzo was a white civil rights activist from Michigan and mother of five, who was murdered by Ku Klux Klan members after the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March on Highway 80.)

It is pretty simple, really, to understand once you think about it. Just as the majority of Americans believe we should always honor members of the Armed Services for protecting our freedom, African-Americans feel the same need to thank their brothers and sisters who fought for their rights and freedom from the pain and suffering of segregation. And they want to make sure their children and their children’s children never forget, as well.

As we left for Montgomery and took the same route Dr. King and the marchers took, Dr. Simon read the following by Amanda Barbour, an MLS student and participant in the 2009 SMU Civil Rights Pilgrimage:

Driving or riding – as the case may be
Down the road from Selma to Montgomery
Is something of a trail of tears experience for me

I look at the two lane highway with its grassy median
And try to image the rich soil beneath
The Black Belt soil
And the sharecroppers who once picked cotton here day in and day out

I stare down the road
Imagining thousands of marchers
Making their way on a wide dirt road

I see tent cities and determination
Conjure visions of the outstretched masses
Gaining to some 20,000 by the time they reached Montgomery
They are singing freedom songs

In these individuals bound together
Is the richness of the Black Belt soil
The kind of foundation, firmament
From which good things grow

It was nearly silent on our trip to Montgomery.

photo-8.jpg That evening we got to meet with people Ray Jordan called “true royalty of the Civil Rights movement”: the Rev. Robert Graetz and his wife, and Vera Harris and her mother (in photo). The Rev. Graetz in 1955 was sent to Montgomery by the American Lutheran Church to serve an all-black congregation. Dr. Graetz was a leader in the Montgromery Bus Boycott. Vera Harris’ father secretly housed all of the Freedom Riders passing through Montgomery on their way to Jackson.

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