Civil Rights Pilgrimage 2014

2014 marks the 10th Anniversary of the SMU Civil Rights Pilgrimage. The eight-day bus journey takes students, faculty and staff to visit the American South’s civil rights landmarks and leaders in the movement. The group’s stops include Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas; the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama; Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King served as pastor; the campus of Ole Miss in Oxford; and the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where Dr. King was assassinated.

To the Foot Soldiers, Freedom Riders, and Civil Rights Activists

An update from Lisa, a senior psychology and human rights major:

To the Foot Soldiers, Freedom Riders, and Civil Rights Activists

I do not intend to change the world.

I intend to change a mind or two in my world.

I hope to inspire others to change the minds of others in this world.

I intend to change me.

I am encouraged by the way you moved.

I am inspired by the way you acted.

I am touched by your words, but words alone do not break the backs of the powerful oppressors.

Action transforms.

Proactive people are pros at active thinking and powerful activity.

I want to be (pro)active like you.

When I sit here I am impatient because I would rather be marching.

In my head I stand tall and move fast and effectively.

I am a foot soldier standing a foot above.

I will not move mountains, but I will move minds.

Mountains are fixed like fixed mentalities about race, gender, and sexual orientation.

Minds are evolving like the evolution of equality.

We need minds to move.

Minds like you.

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The Lorraine Motel

An update from Alexandra, a junior majoring in history and human rights with a minor in Arabic:

The Lorraine Motel and Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee; the site where Martin Luther King was assassinated.

The Lorraine Motel and Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee; the site where Martin Luther King was assassinated.

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Recharged and Inspired

An update from Karma, a junior human rights and political science double major with a minor in law and legal reasoning:

As I return from the 10th Annual SMU Civil Rights Pilgrimage, I have a shadow lingering over my head, a shadow that has existed since March 15, 2011.

Today – March 15, 2014 – marks the three-year anniversary of the beginning of the Syrian Revolution. Born to Syrian immigrants, I have been greatly influenced by Syrian culture, history, and most importantly, the people. Throughout my entire life up until I was 17 years old, I spent every summer vacation in Syria. I never thought my last day in Syria would be my last.

As I think about Emmett Till, who was murdered at 14, body mutilated, for allegedly whistling at a white woman, I am reminded of Hamza al-Khateeb, the 11-year-old boy from Daraa, Syria who wrote graffiti on a wall, imitating what he had seen others do throughout Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. He too, was brutally murdered, body mutilated, unrecognizable, and returned to his parents, who, like Emmet Till’s mother, Mamie Till, chose to share his picture with the world.

They both sparked revolutions.

As I return from this trip, I now see a movement in Syria that at times seems bleak and hopeless, as one with potential. As I look at the struggle that African Americans went through in this country and the progress that
they were able to achieve, the seemingly impossible Syrian dream, seems very much possible.

They too, have a dream, and I am recharged, inspired, and ready to make a difference, as I keep my faith in God, who is always with the oppressed.

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A new National Historic Landmark

An update from Kayla, a sophomore human rights and economics double major:

On March 11, the Edmund Pettus Bridge was officially declared a National Historic Landmark, and the pilgrims were there to witness this historic event.

On March 11, the Edmund Pettus Bridge was officially declared a National Historic Landmark, and the pilgrims were there to witness this historic event.

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Little Rock Central High School

An update from Lisa, senior human rights and psychology double major:

Little Rock Central High School - site of the Little Rock Nine integration implementation in 1957.

Little Rock Central High School – site of the Little Rock Nine integration implementation in 1957.

Tree in front of Little Rock Central High School

Tree in front of Little Rock Central High School

Display of an experiment conducted to investigate the effects of segregation on children in the museum section of the LRCHS National Historic Site. Black and white children favored white baby dolls over black dolls during a series of categorized tests.

Display of an experiment conducted to investigate the effects of segregation on children in the museum section of the LRCHS National Historic Site. Black and white children favored white baby dolls over black dolls during a series of categorized tests.

Protestors for segregation - Recognize any commonalities to modern time political and social issues?

Protestors for segregation – Recognize any commonalities to modern time political and social issues?

Lady Opportunity - One of the Greek goddess features located above the main entrance of Little Rock Central High School. This statue displays "Opportunity". Ironically the school was originally for whites only.

Lady Opportunity – One of the Greek goddess located above the main entrance of Little Rock Central High School. This statue displays “Opportunity.” Ironically the school was originally for whites only.

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‘Thank you’ to those who led the way

An update from Denice, a graduate student in Liberal Studies, with an emphasis on social justice and human rights:

imageThe poem “Hands,” by previous SMU Civil Rights Pilgrim Chrysta Brown, brought the events of the past to the forefront of my mind. Her poem expresses the appreciation of those well known and those unknown Heroes and Sheroes of the Movement through imagery of hands.

I think of those that went before me, paving the way for my freedom, education, ability to choose where to live and the ability to choose a career. I, too, would like to touch their hands and give a personal “Thank You!” to each and every one. There is no real way to do this but to take this experience and drop my pebble in the pond, generating the ripples that extend into the community, the state of Texas, and through the nation.

The fight will continue and We Shall Overcome!

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Civil rights movement isn’t over

An update from Jillian, a senior anthropology and human rights major:

As our trip comes to an end, I find myself very challenged by the ironic juxtaposition of the history of the Civil Rights Movement and the real-time condition of the movement’s participants. During our visit at Mt. Zion Church yesterday, our guest speaker was asked what the individuals who spent great time and energy fighting for the right to vote did after they had succeeded. The answer she gave was simple, yet shocking: they went back home.

DSC_0174The current reality for those who fought and advocated for civil rights, in addition to their children, continues to be one of perpetual poverty and societal oppression. While we cannot forget about the remarkable advances and achievements of the past civil rights movement, we must recognize the need for this continual advance. It is not enough for us to assume that the movement has gone and passed when it is still very much a part of the structural inequality we have in place today.

While at the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Alabama, this week, we were reminded about the current civil rights issues in our country today. Our tour guide stressed that we must educate ourselves and learn how to sympathize and empathize with the past civil rights advances in order to apply that understanding to the pressing issues of immigrant, Muslim, and LGBT discrimination today.

Offering a visual representation of this lack of completion within the fight for total and inclusive civil rights was the fountain displayed outside of the memorial center. Constructed as a timeline of specific events, the creator purposefully left a blank space between the last event and the present day, representing the need for civil rights work and activism today.

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A Voice for the Voiceless

An update from Shelbi, a junior human rights major:

Yesterday we left Montgomery, Alabama to head to Jackson, Mississippi. On the way, we stopped in Philadelphia, Mississippi to visit Mt. Zion United Methodist Church. We unloaded the bus, wandered around the property for a few minutes, and eventually made our way inside and took our seats. Two women were there to share their stories with us.

The first woman was the daughter of a man brutally beaten the night of the church burning in 1964. The second woman’s mother and brother were also beaten that dreadful June night. They talked about their families, and they talked about the three Civil Rights activists who where murdered that June: Michael Schwerner (25), Andrew Goodman (21), and James Chaney (21).

The 50th anniversary of the church burning, the beatings, and the murders is coming up. We asked the women if they thought much has changed since then. They said things are unquestionably better than they were, but reminded us that there is a long way to go. They reminded us that not all white people were bad in 1964. They said there were good white people too. Ray then reminded us that good is relative – and that was an extremely important reminder.

There were certainly white people who didn’t beat black people, didn’t burn down churches, didn’t murder people – but if they didn’t say or do anything to stop others from doing those things, can we say they were good people? I do not think we can. Being opposed to racism, discrimination, and bigotry is not enough. We must actively fight racism, discrimination, and bigotry. We must constantly strive to be a voice for the voiceless.

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Our life-changing week

An update from Bettye, a graduate student in Liberal Studies:

As we are on our final few days of a truly life-changing week, I reflect on how privileged we are to have met some of the icons of the civil rights movement:

  • Standing near the son of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Listening to the preachings of Mr. Jesse Jackson
  • Hearing the wisdom of the words of U.S. Rep. John Lewis
  • Sharing a meal with the Rev. and Mrs. Graetz
  • Shaking the hand of Mr. Julian Bond
  • Sitting in Mt. Zion Church with the children of the victims of beatings in Philadelphia, Mississippi

image I am humbled by each of these leaders in the march to freedom. But it is not those who have now taken a place in my heart.

It is people like Alma, who sat beside me at a bus stop in Montgomery, Alabama. We were waiting to board our bus to continue our journey into the Deep South, and she was waiting for a bus to take her to the doctor. She told me about her family, about living her entire life in Montgomery, about refusing to ride on the buses during the strikes, about being a maid until she was 68 years old, about having known Rosa Parks, about at one time never believing that her life would have changed so much. She was beautiful. She was endearing. She was funny. She is now a part of me.

Keep marching!

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Meeting new friends

image2

An update from Denice, a graduate student in Liberal Studies, with an emphasis on social justice and human rights:

It is absolutely wonderful traveling with this crew. We have met many wonderful people: each other, distinguished guests, waitstaff, hotel staff, fabulous tour guides and random people interested in who we are, where we have been and where we are headed.

One young man, a graduate student at the University of Alabama, stopped by our table at lunch with questions of the buttons I was wearing. One is the SMU Civil Rights Pilgrimage pin: red oval with the University’s name on the outside and CRP in the center. The other one was given to each of us by the Civil Rights Museum.

The student listened to us discuss our program, our trip thus far and plans we have for the rest of the week. He gave a list of other areas to visit throughout Montgomery and Alabama.

It is a privilege to be immersed in so much history. I wish we had the time to experience it all. Doing the pilgrimage has brought me a keener understanding of the courage of those who fought this tough but necessary battle. I do appreciate the sacrifices made to make this country a little more satisfying for everyone.

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