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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National Voting Museum and Tabernacle Baptist Church

An update from Jazmin, a senior majoring in Spanish:

“Being a Negro in America means trying to smile when you want to cry. It means trying to hold on to physical life amid psychological death. It means the pain of watching your children grow up with clouds of inferiority in their mental skies. It means having your legs cut off, and then being condemned for being a cripple.” – Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here, 1967

The National Voting Rights Museum and Institute, Selma, AlabamaOur day started off at the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute in Selma, Alabama. This place was overwhelmed with artifacts and history of the events that occurred during the journey towards voting rights for people of color. I was drawn to the pictures of the officials that were hitting and hurting the “foot soldiers” (term for civil rights activists who were in the marches for equality). I also loved that every picture was black and white. I believe these pictures showed a message of clarity. The message of the marches and the violence towards the activist was an issue in which there was no shade of grey to defend, only acts of embarrassment.

I learned many things from this museum, from images of the most important people of the movement, to woman’s rights, and even the description of Gandhi’s message which Martin Luther King coined during the fight towards becoming first-class citizens.

Jazmin at Tabernacle Baptist ChurchAs you can guess…it only keeps getting better from here on out. When we arrived at Tabernacle Baptist Church, I was absolutely mind-blown by the surprise appearance of several foot soldiers themselves! I had the pleasure of coming face to face with history. I was in the presence of some of the most incredible people I had ever met.

On March 7, 1967, about 600 peaceful and determined marchers were firm on walking from Selma to Montgomery (roughly 52 miles) where they would utilize the march for national publicity to prove the unfairness of voter registration practices. Also, it was a form of protest for the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, who died in 1965 from injuries he received while protecting his 82-year-old grandfather during a nonviolent protest. As the protestors approached the Selma Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were met by local police and state troopers. The foot soldiers were ordered that if they did not stop the march in three minutes, that there would be consequences.

The marchers continued with no hesitation. It was then that they were attacked with sticks, whips, tear gas, batons, and anything that the officials could get hold of. The beating did not stop at the bridge. It also continued throughout the town for the whole day. If there was an African American in sight, they were a target for cruelty. The aftermath of this cannot be put into words. Many who did not make it to the churches for protection were found beaten so badly that they lay unconscious, with bones broken, soaked in their own blood. The colored people were helpless, with no one to ask for aid since the people in power were the ones doing the beating.

Today we call this day “Bloody Sunday.” Though there was a second, symbolic march to the Pettus Bridge accomplished on March 9, 1965, the events of Bloody Sunday can never be justified nor forgotten.

Joanne Blackmon Bland and Annie Pearl Avery were among the “foot soldiers” I got to meet today. Joanne Bland spoke to us with pride and courage as she described what she went through in order to voice her beliefs. From being in jail over 10 times by the age of 13, to servicing and motivating other marchers, Joanne Bland never gave up. She is still strong facing racial issues today. She refuses to let history repeat itself and emphasizes that no matter how much her and her peers had done, there is never enough work to get done because racism is still alive today.

Annie Pearl Avery was also such an inspiration. Her kind words of wisdom reached my heart the way no other person had. Annie’s stories and messages promoted equality, power, dedication, strength, and most of all love. These strong women have been a constant reminder that I need to cherish my rights and my equality. Had it not been for the voice of many individuals in this nation, I could not sit here today expressing my thoughts, beliefs nor opinions. I am, and forever will be, in the debt of amazing individuals whom have impacted this nation with their strength and courage.

The price of equality has been death in many cases, and I need to realize that freedom was just not given to me; it was fought for gruesomely with blood, tears, and much valor. I believe now more than anything that with all these experiences, I will never take my freedom and voice for granted. I am learning to cherish every minute of every day of my freedom. Great Americans of any type of service who have fought for me and my country, I can never repay you or thank you all enough for your determination and courage. I am truly blessed!

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