SMU Civil Rights Pilgrimage 2013

During spring break 2013, 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 the SMU Chaplain’s Office.

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A spring break packed with history

An update from Katherine, a junior majoring in political science and English with a minor in Russian-area studies:

Yesterday I got back from the 2013 SMU Civil Rights Pilgrimage, and I cannot express how much more enlightened I feel. Being African-American, I knew the trip would be good for me because it would give me a better sense of what a lot of my older relatives went through. Now that I am back I can say that I did achieve that knowledge and even more. There are a couple of activities that we got to do that I want to describe because they had a significant impact on me.

Montgomery, Alabama, was probably the location where I learned the most for a couple of reasons. Much like Washington, D.C., Montgomery is packed with a lot of history, and some aspects of it even remind me of D.C. I learned a lot there. Visiting the Rosa Parks Museum brought to light the larger context of why America finds her important. My whole life I thought she was notable simply for not giving up her seat on a bus, but that action of hers sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Additionally, having dinner with the Reverend Graetz, his wife, and the Harris family was probably my favorite night. They all had big roles in the movement in Alabama, and I hope I grow up to be half as amazing as all four of them.

I also found Little Rock Central High School to be interesting. This was the first location that we visited. I found it intriguing because despite the fact that the Little Rock Nine entered the school over 50 years ago, the school still has an eerie atmosphere. Since we were there in the morning, I could not help but imagine the angry crowd of students standing around the school shouting before the Little Rock Nine entered the building. What is also strange is that when I posted a picture of me standing in front of the school on Facebook, one of my sorority sisters from Arkansas informed me that she went to high school there. I have quite a few questions for her now.

Lastly, I highly enjoyed the time that we spent at Ole Miss. Ole Miss really does have a lot in common with SMU, from the architecture to the very Southern social culture.  On Thursday night, we had dinner with an Ole Miss professor, Dr. King, at the Southern Journalism and Politics building. He gave us a great overview of what James Meredith – the first African-American student admitted to Ole Miss – is like now, and what the school is like today in terms of race relations.

Dr. King said some interesting things, like how Mr. Meredith has a very quirky and unpredictable personality. He said a lot of the students at Ole Miss who engage in behavior pertaining to racial insensitivity actually come from out of state. Lastly we also learned that Ole Miss has a meaning behind it. During the slavery period, the slaves would refer to the master’s wife as “ole miss,” so I have always been wrong in thinking that it stood for “old Mississippi.”

As the trip is over, I will definitely miss the family that the pilgrimage created. Not only did I learn a lot of U.S. history, I also had the privilege of getting to know some bright SMU students. In talking to my fellow pilgrims, I was equally enlightened by some of our conversations – much like listening to all of the speakers. Though it was initially hard giving up a week that was meant for relaxing, I know that I made the right decision. This experience will always be engraved in my heart and memory.

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