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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Pilgrimage Day 1: Little Rock Central High School

An update from Jazmin, a senior majoring in Spanish:


Little Rock Central High School

“The effort to separate ourselves whether by race, creed, color, religion, or status is as costly to the separator as to those who would be separated.” – Melba Pattillo Beals

Jazmin in Little Rock

Today was the first official day of our pilgrimage. Our group got to go to Little Rock Central High School where in 1957, nine African American students attempted, for the first time, to integrate the school. On May 17, 1954 the United States Court issued Brown v. Board of Education, which declared by law that segregated schools  be unconstitutional. With this law being passed, the United States was entitled to desegregate all schools throughout the nation. After this decision, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) attempted to register black students into all-white schools throughout the south. Little Rock Central High was one of the best schools in the state, the African Americans community wanted equal education and equal opportunity. Most importantly, the NAACP wanted to challenge Brown v. Board of Education to make sure the law would be carried out.

Little Rock Central High: To many this was a facility of education, but to the Little Rock Nine it was a place of hatred and intolerance. For them, the school was a constant battlefield. They were pushed, bullied, spat, hit, ridiculed and threatened. This was a fight for equality! The nine teenagers ranging from the ages of 15 to 17 years old were put to the test. Every day they awoke to get ready for school, was a conquering day. The Little Rock Nine were determined to face the racist crowd that awaited them each morning.

For me, this was such a memorable experience! Coming to the school and picturing the way situations occurred was a extraordinary experience. As our tour guide was explaining the history and also with the reading “Warriors Don’t Cry,” I questioned how the white man could have been so hateful to minority individuals. The Little Rock Nine were only young adults trying to better themselves for the future, like the other white students attending, and what even us today are attempting to do. To walk up to the steps of the school every day facing such hatred is inspiring. Though the school was shut down for a year because the town preferred to be punished than desegregate, I am glad that they all graduated and had promising futures. This story inspires me to be grateful and take action for my rights as a minority. It is because of people like them who pushed for equality and a better education that has allowed me to come to school today freely without worries. I am forever grateful for their stand in society and am very proud that we got to come across such a historical architecture through our journey.

The Clinton Presidential Center

Jazmin at the Clinton Presidential CenterThough this was not on our itinerary, I am so thankful that we got a chance to stop and take a look! I absolutely loved it. There was so much history inside the museum in which I did not even know President Clinton was a part of or accomplished. I enjoyed all the images that allowed for easy learning and more than anything I loved the white house duplicated rooms. Also, at the end, the video that we got to watch was very informative. I learned the many good deeds that Clinton carried out as President, as well as some background history of himself which helped getting to know him on a personal level and not only as a president and politician, but as a person like us.

Medgar Wiley Evers Residence

For me, Medgar Evers was the most inspirational moment of the night. Though it was only a 20-minute stop,  that was enough to feel the tension of the crime scene. As we approached Medgar Evers house, we had no idea where we were and I thought to myself, “What are we doing? We’re in a neighborhood of a crime scene at 10 pm!” Getting off the bus, I remembered looking at the house and thinking, “How?! Why?! ” Medgar Wiley Evers was an educated civil rights activist. He sought equality and was deeply involved in the movement. Evers was involved in the NAACP and sadly, he knew this was a threat to his family, neighbors, and himself.

Evers knew that since he was very involved in the journey for equality, and simply for the color of his skin, he had to take every type of precaution. When he built his house, he made it to where there was no front door entrance. There was only a small side entrance and a back entrance so that if anything happened, there would be enough time to get out of the house. The KKK had planned the murder of Medgar. There were two plans for the KKK that night. One was that the Klan was going to attack Medgar when he was driving down the street, but to their surprise Medgars had taken another route. Still, the Klan was determined to kill him that evening and went to the extremities of placing a sniper in front of his house.

When Evers got out of his house the sniper got a good angle and shot him in the back with hunting rifle. The intensity behind the rifle was so powerful that half of his upper cavity was blown off. He pulled himself from the driveway to the front porch where he lay in front of the house bleeding out. The police took a while to get him to the nearest hospital, but worse was that the hospital was a white hospital. No one wanted to attend Medgar because he was black. Later, a white doctor decided to attend Medgars but it was too late at this point. Medgars had died within one hour of being shot.

Walking up to the house gave me chills. We stood in front of the porch where Evers had been assassinated. There were still blood stains on the floor next to the steps where Medgars had bled out so much. I saw the gun shots in the window, and the placement of the house where the driveway pulled through the back and side for safety. I was in awe at the fact that someone had such hate inside them to do something so gruesome. It angered me! It made me vicious! It made me sad! Was this my country we were still learning about?

It was at this point that I became ashamed of America. I looked at the house one last time, I pondered over the neighborhood, put my head down, and walked back to my seat on the bus. I know we are on the road to equality, but at that moment, I had never felt so ashamed of the country I had been living in.

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