SMU Civil Rights Pilgrimage 2012

During spring break 2012, students, faculty and staff are taking a nine-day bus ride through the American South to visit civil rights landmarks and leaders in the movement. Political Science Professor Dennis Simon leads the pilgrimage with SMU’s Chaplain’s Office.

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Preparing to board

An update from Kim, a Master of Liberal Studies student:

We’re ready to go. You can come see us off at 3 p.m. in front of SMU’s Hughes-Trigg Student Center. But once we board the big bus, if you stand in the center aisle and look us over, you’ll see a pretty interesting mix of both undergraduates (mostly young) and Master of Liberal Studies students (many older) led by political science professor Dennis Simon, Ray Jordan for the SMU Office of the Chaplain, and student leader Bethany Mackingtee.

One of our travelers came for the first time as an MLS student last year. He’s taking the journey all over again, but this year he’s bringing his daughter. That tells you something.

This is the eighth year that SMU has offered its Civil Right Pilgrimage, and the fifth year for Simon. When our class, “The Politics and Legacies of the Civil Rights Movement,” began meeting in mid-January, Simon didn’t have any trouble communicating his passion for the subject, bringing home the point that the people who lived through this turbulent, shameful and important period of American history have important stories to share that most people will never know.

“We need foot soldiers in the civil rights movement,” Simon said. “The foot soldiers you are going to meet are aging. And the foot soldiers are worried about their grandchildren not knowing civil rights history.”

Simon has been telling us for months that this trip tends to change people – that we won’t be the same when we get off the bus nine days from now. We drive through to Little Rock tonight, starting our journey at Central High School, where nine black teenagers fought through angry white mobs and day-to-day vitriol in 1957 to begin the slow process of integrating public schools. Before the week is out, we will have traveled throughout Mississippi and Alabama, and will end our journey in Memphis, Tenn., where Martin Luther King was assassinated.

“Think of this movement as a wave washing over a beach,” Simon said. “It changes things.”

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