Civil Rights Pilgrimage South

During Spring Break 2011, students, faculty and staff are taking an eight-day bus ride to the American South’s civil rights landmarks. Political Science Professor Dennis Simon leads the pilgrimage with SMU’s Chaplain’s Office.

Changing the “social narrative” of racism

roza-essaw-90.jpgAn update from Roza, a sophomore majoring in communication studies and political science:

I have a feeling I might be saying this more than once, but today was hands down my favorite day of the week. The best part of this jampacked day was a surprise visit from Minnijean Brown Trickey, one of the Little Rock Nine! I can’t believe that two days ago I spent time visiting the Little Rock Central High School Historical Site and taking pictures by the statues of the nine children, and today in Selma, Alabama, I got to meet Minnijean!

She took the time to talk to us for a few minutes, and blew all of us away with her intelligence and captivating presence. When I thought I had the story of the Little Rock Nine all figured out, she told me otherwise. Minnijean shared some important stories that had been left out of books. For example, we always hear about how Minnijean dumped a bowl of chili on a white student, but she told us that we never hear about the countless times white students did the same to her. Despite the trials and tribulations Minnijean encountered, she told us there wasn’t a single day when she didn’t walk away from her horrific experiences proud and confident.

I was just amazed at her level of tolerance and discipline. If I were in her situation I would have lost my temper or just given up, but she reminded us that all along she knew she was the intelligent one and her antagonists were the foolish ones. Not wanting to hand her opponents any victory, she kept on fighting. If Minnijean and the rest of the children had given up, the social narrative of racism and desegregation would still be alive today. However, thanks to the sacrifice they made, the “social narrative was interrupted.”

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The violence of Freedom Summer

roza-essaw-90.jpgAn update from Roza, a sophomore majoring in communication studies and political science:

Today marks the conclusion of another successful day! It seemed like an ordinary Sunday; we all got up early in the morning, got dressed and made our way to church. Except it wasn’t just any church, it was Mt. Zion Methodist Church, infamously known as the Freedom Summer murder church. At this very church where my classmates and I had worship service this morning, voting rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were murdered. On June 21, 1964, these three men came to investigate the burning of Mt. Zion Church and were viciously murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan.

Members of the church welcomed us with open hearts and treated us with the finest hospitality. They hosted a special Sunday service just for us, served us dinner and took the time to share some of the atrocities they had to endure as African American members of the community. After hearing some of the most saddening stories, I walked away from the church realizing the importance of taking the time to share the stories of the movement. As painful as it must be for these activists to stand up and say, “my mother was beaten by a member of the KKK and I too was victimized,” at the same time silence won’t do justice to such a pivotal point in our history. In order to keep the movement alive, these stories need to be told over and over again.

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Long way to go

mt%20zion.jpg An update from Casondra, who is earning a Master’s of liberal studies:

This is Day 2 on the Pilgrimage. I have been on the steps of Central High and attended Sunday Services at Mt. Zion Church in Mississippi. From speakers that we have listened to and each other, it has come to my attention that the fight for civil rights is not in the past.

It is in the subtleties that equality does not exist – from the battering of the historical marker at Mt. Zion to the poverty that is abundant in the area, there is still a long way to go for true equality for all human beings.

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Still fighting for justice

Genesis1.jpg An update from Genesis, a first-year political science major:

“Do Justice, Love Kindness, Be Humble”

– Reverend Ray Jordan

Those were the words that Reverend Ray preached this morning, while we sat in Mount Zion United Methodist Church. Sitting in a church filled with so much history really got me thinking about life in general. I have seen the civil rights movies, read some of the books, but it never had an affect on me. It was another history lesson, and it never really became relevant to me, until now. I really felt as though it did not relate to me because I thought it was in the past. I thought that fight was over.

Today, though, changed my whole perspective on life because at Mt. Zion church, people still come by to hit the sign; the hatred that they once faced still remains. It has not gone away, the fight still continues.

Ray kept saying to do justice. Sometimes, at least to me, I feel as though fighting for justice is an effort fought in the past, but I am learning it is still relevant for today. Justice never becomes outdated; it’s an ever-continuing effort, it’s a daily fight.

I am thankful and humbled that people take the time to enlighten others on the tragedy that they had to go through so that others might live a better life.

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Becoming a witness

Kelvin%20.jpg An update from Kelvin, who is earning a Master of liberal studies:

The end of day two:

Wow, what a journey so far.

“Everyone that listens to a witness, becomes a witness.”

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Warm welcome at Mt. Zion

Kimberly.jpg An update from Kimberly, a first-year student planning to major in political science and international studies with a minor in human rights:

Well, today was Daylight Savings. Let me tell you, I do not enjoy “springing forward.: However, today was amazing and definitely made up for it! We left Jackson to head to Philadelphia, which is about an hour and 40 minutes away. Today the pilgrims visited Mt. Zion Methodist Church. The significance of this place is the lynching of three civil rights workers in the 1960s.

On the way to Philadelphia, Fred (our driver) took some routes that showed the impoverished areas of Mississippi. Despite this poverty, the congregation seemed so happy. They were kind, warmhearted and welcoming. I felt right at home, and I’m sure that everyone else did as well.

After the service, we learned more of the Klan’s damage to the church. The congregation’s strength through its trials was truly inspirational. I’m unsure how they channel that negativity into strength for their cause. I want to be more like that. Their delicious buttermilk pie must help keep them optimistic. ;)

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The living legacy of the Little Rock Nine

roza-essaw-90.jpgAn update from Roza, a sophomore majoring in communication studies and political science:

Today marks the first day of the civil rights pilgrimage, and already it has been off to such a wonderful start.

Our first stop was the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site. After studying the history of the nine students who put their lives at risk to integrate public schools, I was definitely looking forward to the visiting the actual site. Learning about the courage of the Little Rock Nine inside classrooms is one thing, but actually standing in the same place where they endured so much hate and ultimately paved the way for public school integration is incredible.

The historic site is located right next to the high school so we had an opportunity to see gripping photography, captivating photos and eye-opening videos about the Little Rock Nine. Our tour guide, Bryan, took the time to share stories about the nine students and imparted a lot of knowledge. I knew the nine students were extraordinary individuals, but I had no clue they were such intelligent and important movers and shakers of our society, even to this day. Forty years later, the nine children went on to graduate from Little Rock Central High School and now hold key positions in society. They are doctors, politicians, professors, writers, social workers; more importantly, all of them are a living testament of an important part of our history. They all make an attempt to make sure the story never dies by making annual visits to the high school and contributing to the civil rights movement through their daily works.

Hearing Bryan share this story just made me smile and appreciate the ingenuity of the civil rights movement. Too many times we look past at the movement without realizing how much thought and intricate detail was invested in the movement. Because while picking the nine students, civil rights activists did not just pick any nine students. Instead they chose the nine most brilliant, altruistic and kindhearted individuals. After spending hours visiting their high school and hearing about their stories, I felt connected to them in a whole new way. Not only did I walk away learning so much more about them, but I also left with a greater level of respect and appreciation for their courageous work.

I feel so lucky to be laughing and freely walking around in their school, all because of the hatred and life-threatening situation the nine children endured 40 years ago.

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On the steps of Little Rock Central High

hanna.bmpAn update from Hanna, a sophomore political science and marketing major:

Today, we had the chance to explore Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site and the actual school itself. Watching the Little Rock Nine through documentaries does not do justice to physically being on the steps the students took to get to class.

I fell in love with the National Park tour guides, Bryan and Fabian, because they were so welcoming and warm to our group. The atmosphere at the National Park was really positive and contagious!

Four and half hours later, we visited Medgar Evers’ house in Jackson, Mississippi, where we met Ms. Minnie, an amazingly beautiful woman inside and out. Her description of Mr. Evers brought the story to life and made it real. I had a hard time knowing that Mr. Evers’ children slept on mattresses on the floor in order to stay clear from bullets. No child should have to experience fear and anxiety in their own homes. A truly amazing first day that set the bar for the rest of the trip!

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How did the Little Rock Nine do it?

Kimberly.jpg An update from Kimberly, a first-year student planning to major in political science and international studies with a minor in human rights:

Today, I did not know what to expect. I awoke early; trying to be ready by Ray’s deadline … Roza and I were late anyway. How embarrassing!

Our first stop was Little Rock Central High School. Of course I’ve seen it in dozens of textbooks, class presentations, and on the internet, but I had absolutely no idea of how huge it was. The campus is gigantic. It is a beautifully built institution, but its history is harsh.

The museum was very interesting, but I couldn’t wait to get on the campus. So, Hanna and I went together before anyone else. We took our pictures and explored, trying to find our way in … no luck. Near the top of the high school there are four statues that read “ambition, personality, opportunity, and preparation.” I can only assume these words are the motto of the school. My question is, how effective are these words in describing the Little Rock Nine? What did all the hatred do to their ambitions? Did it encourage them; discourage them? How did their personalities change? What opportunities did they seek? Finally, how do you prepare to walk down the street to class every morning with adults claiming they will kidnap you and mutilate you and lynch you?

I don’t think I could’ve done it. Actually, I know I wouldn’t have been able to. It gives me such an uneasy feeling within. I tried to imagine how it felt to walk slowly down the sidewalk, up several dozen stairs, and through the door into a white school through a crowd of a thousand hateful people. No one will really ever know.

Next we made our way to Jackson to the home of Medgar Evers. I remember what the home looked like and special things here and there, but his blood, that’s really all I remember. To stand where he was shot and bleeding to death was so disturbing to me. I felt sick even looking at it, but it made his assassination so real.

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