A Civil Rights tour of the South can be a transformative experience for students. I know it has been for a number of mine, who took part in last week’s trip. There is no better place to teach this material than at the very sites themselves. They allow for the kind of identification, empathy and understanding that is impossible to teach in the classroom. The experience is only heightened when in the presence of those people who took part in the struggle. On our trip those participants were almost all African American. They included folks on the front lines and those behind the scenes. They afforded an intimate look into the lives of African Americans and the black communities in which they lived at the time. Continue reading
One of the highlights of my recent school trip through the Civil Rights South was walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge for the first time in Selma, Alabama. The bridge is one of the most iconic images of the struggle and the film of the marchers being assaulted by police on “Bloody Sunday” moves me every time. Continue reading
During our time in Jackson, Mississippi we made a quick stop at the Greyhound Bus Station, which served as the destination for the Freedom Riders in 1961. Many of the participants were arrested and jailed at the notorious Parchman Prison. The city boasts a modern bus station, but in 1988 the old facility was renovated by Renovation Architect, Robert Parker Adams. The building now serves as his firm’s office. Mr. Adams graciously welcomed our group and personally led us through the building. His tour focused mainly on the steps taken to preserve the facility and create an efficient work space. It’s quite impressive. Continue reading
I guess it’s something I noticed after having spent so much time at Civil War sites, but my recent trip has left me with the impression that the vast majority of tour guides and educators working at historic sites related to the civil rights movement in the South are African-American women. It is ironic given that apart from a few high profile individuals such as Rosa Parks, the many roles that women played throughout the movement have been minimized if not forgotten.
On Wednesday morning I got up early and walked to a nearby IHOP for breakfast rather than run the gauntlet of 40 hungry students scrambling for something to eat at the hotel. As I usually do I brought a book with me, which on this occasion was a book I picked up on the civil rights movement in Tuskegee, the day before. Within a few minutes three elderly white men sat at a table to my left. One gentleman noticed what I was reading and we struck up a conversation. I mentioned that I was with a group of students from Boston traveling from Atlanta to Memphis to visit civil rights sites. We chatted for a bit longer, but the last thing he said to me was, “Make sure you tell them we’re not all racists down here.” Continue reading