Civil Rights Pilgrimage South

During Spring Break 2011, students, faculty and staff are taking an eight-day bus ride to the American South’s civil rights landmarks. Political Science Professor Dennis Simon leads the pilgrimage with SMU’s Chaplain’s Office.

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Touch and sight

An update from Casondra, a graduate student in the Master of Liberal Studies program:

Dr. Simon asked us why we like to touch things. What creates our connection?

When we are born and are growing through life, touch is how we learn. It’s how we know when something is too hot to handle or what is soft and comfortable. It’s also how humans connect with each other, with a hug, handshake or a pat on the back.

For myself, I am a texture person. I buy things that I will enjoy the shape and feeling of, from my wallet to clothes to my cellphone case. Touching different things helps me connect to my past, and that includes the past that did not directly involve my lifetime. When I touch a name etched in stone and close my eyes, I can pay my respects to the people who have given their time, effort, and their life so that I can exist with my current freedoms today. Touching helps me remember the people and places so I can keep the feeling that I have right now and take it with me when I go back home to Dallas and live my daily life.

Today we visited Ole Miss, and we looked at the statue of James Meredith and walked around the Lyceum. Touching the statue was important for me. Whether or not it was the artists’ intention, the statue was not smooth like a plate or plant holder. It had grooves like he was walking in the wind. For me this creates the conflict without words being said. It gives it a depth that I personally understand, and when I touch these groves in his coat jacket and feel the tension that he felt, it creates a stronger connection for me.

Somewhere it was said on our trip that we would not have race issues if we were blind. It is sight that creates these boundaries to each other. Our sight has given us the ability to judge each other on surface value qualities instead of our humanity.

Throughout the past week I have seen so many museums and have noticed how they have used sight to portray the American Civil Rights Movement. When we went to the Rosa Parks Museum I was slightly skeptical. I have been learning about these things in class and have heard many of the same stories told repeatedly this week; what was I really going to get out of this museum that was honoring only one specific event (probably the most known event in civil rights history).

As I looked up in the video room, they had wall posters of “whites only” signs, but they were cut in different angles and put onto different boards, so half of the picture was in front of the other. As we entered the museum they continued to use my sight to bring me closer to the conflict without constantly screaming derogatory words on video. I appreciate the thought and creativity of the museum because it allowed me to visually explore Rosa Parks’ world and look into her conflict by the use of vision.

At the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, they did the same, but slightly differently. At one point the wall was completely mirrored, so you had to look at yourself when you were reading about the brutality of the oppressors. To look at myself and the people around me, it was really moving for me. It affected everybody, not just individuals in the movement. It has affected me today, emotionally, legally and justly. If these brave souls had not fought for themselves, where would I be today? Would I have the same opportunities? Would I have the same mind? I am lucky to have my sight, but I can’t let it impose itself on me.

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