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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Where Dr. King felt doubt

An update from Michelle, a sophomore human rights and anthropology major:

Montgomery, Alabama, is a city full of history in regards to the civil rights movement. We saw only a part of that today, including the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church where Dr. Martin Luther King was pastor, the Civil Rights Memorial, the Dexter Parsonage and the Freedom Riders Museum. We had an awesome talk with Reverend and Mrs. Graetz, Vera Harris and her daughter.

One moment of the day that really stuck out to me was when we were visiting the Parsonage, where the King family lived from 1956 to 1960. His house looked just as I imagined any house to look at the time.

While in that stereotypical kitchen, we listened to a clip from one of Dr. King’s speeches. He talked about how one night, he got a call that threatened his life and his family. This was nothing new to him, of course, but it has particularly rattled him that time, so he got up and made himself a cup of coffee in that very kitchen so he could think and hopefully get to bed. It was there that he wondered why he was doing this, and if he should keep going. He revealed his uneasiness for himself and his wife as well as his newborn daughter.

Hearing that voice that we all recognize as THE voice of the movement express any doubts, especially standing in the very place where he lived, worked, and then had those doubts, humanized him. History discusses MLK as an icon. Sometimes it is hard to remember there was a real man behind that icon, rather than just a name in a book. King is generally viewed as being unwavering, as the unafraid leader of the people.

Standing in that ’60s-era kitchen, listening to him talk about those internal struggles that he had at that very table, connected us all to him in a way I wasn’t expecting. There, MLK was humanized, which gives me even more respect for the work he continued to do throughout the movement. Humanizing and making real the struggle for civil rights and the people who experienced it is a recurring theme through this trip.

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