From Birmingham to Montgomery, Selma and Tuskegee to Memphis and Little Rock, we learned and grew so much. Take a look.
Video by Nancy Copic
From Birmingham to Montgomery, Selma and Tuskegee to Memphis and Little Rock, we learned and grew so much. Take a look.
Video by Nancy Copic
Here we are. At the airport, again, two and a half weeks later. Two and a half whirlwind weeks of traveling and learning and building community came to a close yesterday, as we volunteered at United Cerebral Palsy of Arkansas to help them build their library. We painted the space that was to be their library (including some wonderfully colorful bookshelves that may have permanently marked us with bright paint), helped organize their books, and read to the kids at the daycare there. Then that was it. We hopped in the cars, and drove six+ hours back to the beginning, back to Birmingham, where we ate at the same restaurant we ate at our first night and slept in the same beds.
We were in the same place, but we were not the same. We were closer to each other, to the communities we briefly interacted with on our trip here, and to the issues of social justice and civil rights that we learned about.
Now the task as we get ready to board the plane and return to the “real world” is to continue to learn and to use what we have already learned in our daily lives. Our job now is to continue the conversation, so this is hardly an end, but rather a beginning.
That’s all for now. This is Emily, signing off.
Greetings from Day 15 in Little Rock!
By this time, our group has established a strong sense of community, where its difficult to believe the awkwardness that stifled the hotel rooms on that first day in Birmingham. Throughout this trip, we have been learning, growing, and struggling together as we work through these civil rights issues in our own minds and try to apply it to our own experiences. Personally, I have never experienced the swiftness of friendship that has been created over the past fifteen days, and I feel lucky to call these wonderful people sitting next to me my friends.
Today, we got a chance to explore the city of Little Rock. Arkansas has been surprising in lots of ways, turning around our initial beliefs of a dry desert landscape that was painted as Arkansas in our Pacific Northwest cultured minds. Arkansas is full of green, beautiful trees, rolling hills, and many small lakes, and despite the heavy heat that matches the Southern climate, we have developed a sense of home in our temporary residence.
The city itself is not as bustling as downtown Memphis, but there was much to do compared to downtown Montgomery. Some went to the Riverside bookstore, some to check out the river walk at Junction Bridge, and some to the Clinton Library to check out the time capsule of the Clinton administration in the 90s.
After we came back together, we explored the Mosaic Templare, which outlined African American culture throughout the century, from social life in Little Rock to art, music, and literature that built a thriving atmosphere. From the Templare we went to the Clinton School of Public Service within the University of Arkansas, where a panel of students discussed the graduate program for a masters in public service. According to these students, there are three phases to completing this program, where they participate in a team research and service project, an international project, and a capstone project.
Although our reactions to this panel and the graduate program were all different, there was some agreement of the benefit of hearing these students stories of leaving their hometowns in order to come to Arkansas to participate in this program that is so active in social change, where we were able to relate to our own hopes and dreams of what we want our futures to look like.
For me personally, as this trip is drawing near to its close, I feel a profound and definite change within myself as I have been learning and growing as an individual. I am inspired the people who were active in this movement; Martin Luther King Jr, the Little Rock 9, John Lewis, Ralph Abernathy, Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, the Freedom Riders, and all the others that I cannot name and who I will never know, but who live on in so many ways. All this used to be a section of a textbook that was glazed over within a whitewashed curriculum, but to stand where they stood, on the pavement where blood was spilled and slaves walked in chains, in the air that filled and escaped their lungs, we are changed. We understand more about what matters and what still needs to be done, and we feel the scars of what they felt. I have gained a sense of courage through them and for them, and I am confident that this feeling will keep burning in me as I find my feet planted in Portland once again.
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I am not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land.
I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.
And so I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything, I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!” Martin Luther King Jr.
Hello all! Here we are at day 14, our first full day in Little Rock, Arkansas. Waking up being in such a serene location, surrounded by nature, has been quite relaxing and rejuvenating for us all.
Today began at Central High School, where we had the opportunity to learn more about the Little Rock nine: Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Patillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas, and Carlotta Walls. Something surprising I learned today was that there were originally supposed to be ten students entering and integrating Central High School on September 4, 1957. However, due to violence and threats endured during this first attempt to integrate the high school, one student’s family decided to withdraw her from the integration process of Central High School, thus leading to the “Little Rock Nine”.
Walking through Central High School, which is still an active high school, was very moving as we learned bits of the turbulent history, hatred, and violence that these nine students faced during their first year in school. As our tour guide described, their were three groups of people during this time in the Little Rock Central High School: the silent by-stander’s, the bullies, and the few students who supported the Little Rock Nine. In our reflection we discussed as a group how we partake in each of these roles in current day conflicts we face. We discussed how partaking in the silent by-stander role is essentially another form of taking the side of the oppressor and how the bystander effect impacts the environment of the conflict.
In the foyer of the high school, an exhibit shows where the Little Rock Nine currently are today, yet another good connection of past and present for the civil rights movement. This connection of past and present was relevant in further discussion of how people continue to worry about attaining an education, and how this impacts the society at large.
Lastly, we discussed a common conflict present in American society of how we love our freedom, but this freedom (of speech, religion, choice, etc.) comes with a responsibility: you can’t be a terrorist in your own country. While recognizing that parents and family plays a huge role in child development, we must also recognize how important education is in allowing for exposure to new ideologies and development of opinions based on facts and the truth in combination with “here-say” from family and friends.
Upon returning from Central High School, we were greeted by the serene environment we are calling “home” for our final few days on our immersion. Truly, I cannot think of a better place for us to end our immersion, reflection, and personal growth as we are surrounded by a peaceful and calm environment that is fostering deeper discussion into our reflection time.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead
Today we started the day off with at the National Civil Rights Museum in downtown Memphis. We were welcomed by a very busy street in front of the museum due to a Book fair being held for children with the guest reader, Ruby Bridges. As we entered the museum we began learning about the underground rail road and the many struggles the slaves faced during the era before the end of slavery. We then were shown a movie that introduced us to the civil rights movement. As we continued on in the museum participants felt as we were walking literally through history due to the vivid displays and videos. The museum started at the early stages of the civil rights then ending with the death of Martin Luther King Jr. It was also very interesting and very impactful to be in the same place where MLK died. I felt very honored to have been able to be in the space of a monumental leader of the Civil Rights. As everyone ended the museum we all gathered to eat lunch and was very fortunate to see and hear Ruby Bridges one of six girls that went to a white school even though many have resistance the desecration of schools. At the Book Fair she read to many children her book which was about her part in the Civil Rights Movement. It was amazing to be in the presence of an individual was very bid apart of the civil rights movement and hear her read to the young children of America . After the conclusion of the book fair as a group we were able to explore downtown by seeing the Mississippi River and walking down the famous Beadle Street. It was breathtaking to see and to be immersed in the southern culture first hand. After a little exploration we went to the Mason Temple in hopes of seeing where MLK presented his last speech and hopefully being able to hear it as well. When we arrived, we were very lucky to have been able to enter the church as it was usually closed on a Saturday. While inside we were able to stand on the very podium MLK spoke. We also had a chance to listen to his speech while actually being at the church. Hearing that speech while being at the very space he did speak it was so powerful. Sitting in the seat and hearing MLK’s voice echoing in that space was so compelling. His voice filled our minds with so much inspiration of the power we have to changed the world around us for the better. After visiting the temple we had the opportunity to explore downtown more as the streets were filled with people and be able to eat good southern barbecue in downtown Memphis.
Its an early Thursday morning, as everyone in the house bustles around, cleaning up the place we called home for 8 days straight. The community that so willingly housed and cared for us was soon to be disappearing in our rear-view mirror, and we couldn’t thank them enough. So on our last morning in Alabama, we gave a tearful goodbye to all 50 Mother Mary and Baby Jesus portraits (and statues) that covered the walls of Resurrection Missionary, we were ready to part ways.
Prior to leaving, we established a lottery system to determine who would be riding in each car (in order to shake things up), for our 6 hour car ride. There are 3 cars on this journey, with Immersion Leaders Linda, Erika, and Lindie as the certified drivers. After having an opportunity to reconvene, it became clear that every car ride had their own unique 6 hour experience…
These are their stories:
One of our members (and the only male on the entire trip), Connor Burke, was the certified DJ. The summary of this trip involved an entire Ice Ice Baby Rap, a podcast that lasted for roughly 15 minutes before members of the car became abruptly “unengaged”, and the unreliable DJ (Connor) fell asleep with phone in hand, placing the entire car in IPod-shuffle purgatory.
In this car, dancing and massive amounts of snacking ensued for the majority of the trip. However, similar to the incident that occurred in Lindie’s car, an incedent occurred in which all members of the car (aside from Linda) had fallen asleep. Not only were members of this car breaking the golden rule of “thou shalt not leave the driver hangin’ by falling asleep”, Linda was left to listen to the same Beyonce CD 2.5 times until the first sign of conscious life became present from the rest of the car.
This car has been reported to be relatively tame, with engaging and enriching conversation with fruitful thought and consideration. We can all learn a little something from Erika’s car.
6 hours and several interesting gas stations later, we find ourselves in Tennessee. Stay tuned for more fun and learning from the South!
When I told my older sister that I went to Tuskegee today, she asked,
“Is that where Snuffaluffagus is from?”
No, I informed her, at least not to my knowledge (who knows really? Snuffaluffagi are mysterious creatures.) Tuskegee is home to the Tuskegee Airmen, the first all African American infantry of fighter pilots who flew in WWII; and Tuskegee Institute, the university Booker T. Washington raised and where George Washington Carver taught for a large portion of his life.
Tuskegee is home to men who pushed the boundaries of what was possible for the black community through training and education and determination. They didn’t eradicate the walls, but they dented them, they made a difference in the world for the better, and that is why we remember them.
We started the day at the Tuskegee airfield where the Airmen trained–we watched a wonderfully made video that taught us the Airmen’s history, the meanings of the names “Redtails”(they painted the tails of their planes red) and the challenges they faced both at home with Jim Crow laws, and abroad with WWII. I had never heard of these men before today, at least not that I remember. Maybe they were mentioned in a history class, maybe I skimmed past them in a textbook–but I’d never learned about them like this, as in-your face and epic as the full sized Redtail plane hanging in the museum.
We moved on to Tuskegee Institute, where we toured Booker T. Washington’s house and touched the bricks on the wall, handmade by the students as part of their work-study program and as part of their trade classes. We learned of Booker T. Washington’s devotion to education–strong enough to compel him to walk 500 miles to go to a college that would accept him then working as a janitor to get into the school. While often criticized (especially in comparison to WEB DuBois) for being complacent and accommodating, he was strong and progressive in his own way. His philosophy for the Institute, “we ask for nothing that we can build for ourselves,” helped uplift blacks through education and practical determination. At his core, the conviction, “no man can drag me down so low as to make me hate him.”
Fun Fact: the house, called The Oaks, was built with short steps, short doorknobs, and lowered tables to accommodate Washington’s wife at the time, Margaret Murray Washington, who was 4’11.
Today was a day of learning so much I didn’t know.
Example: I had no idea who George Washington Carver was before today. But now he’s one of my character role models. He was an artist and also made huge strides in agriculture (including hundreds of uses for the peanut and teaching people about crop rotation), was wonderful to people and cared so deeply about him, and always had a fresh flower in his lapel. When asked why he never married, he said “how could I explain to a wife that I have to go out at 4:00 every morning to talk to the flowers?”
Example: from 1932-1972, Tuskegee Institute and what was the CDC at the time performed an extremely unethical study without the subjects’ knowledge or consent. It was called “Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.”
I think that speaks for itself.
It was a hot day, a humid day, a long day walking around in the hot Alabama sun; but given how much I learned, I’d say it was worth it.
That’s all for now, this is Emily, signing off 🙂
Today we all took a day trip to Selma, Alabama where the March from Selma to Montgomery started.
Starting out in the Visitors Interpretive Center, I soon found myself a group of three other students to walk around the town in before our first museum tour. I walked to the First Baptist Church as well as the Brown Chapel AME Church where many people started the march. I saw the prison where Martin Luther King Jr. was held as well.
When we met back up with the group as a whole, we all walked over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where Bloody Sunday happened. This was one of the attempts of the march where state troopers were waiting for the marchers to cross. The marchers were attacked with tear gas, horses, and beaten with bludgers. As I walked across the bridge, I began to sing to myself a song from the Civil Rights Movement and thought about the people who were beaten and intimidated that day. It was truly a profound experience.
At the end of the bridge was the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute where Sam Walker greeted us and introduced us to the exhibit. He was one of the marchers in the March from Selma to Montgomery and went to jail twice for his participation at the age of eleven. In this museum, they have casts of the footprints of those involved in the March. Some of the footprints are of people who were very young, like Mr. Walker, and some who were older. It was amazing to see the casts of these people surrounded by documentation of black female activists, the participation of various churches, and the insight of influential men during the time of the Civil Rights.
From here, we walked back across the bridge to the Ancient Africa Enslavement and Civil War Museum. Annie Pearl Avery was there to welcome us. The first thing she said to us was we could Google her, and I would suggest this because her story is truly amazing. She was also part of the Selma to Montgomery March and was the only one arrested on Bloody Sunday. This was not her first time in jail though, nor was it her last. She took so much pride in being part of the Civil Rights Movement and standing up for what she believed in.
When we got back to Resurrection Parish, dinner was a hash with potatoes, bacon, and bell peppers. Melissa and I made a few cakes for those of us on the trip whose birthday is in May, which is five people. We celebrated together and had some good laughs before reflection and bed.
I will leave you with a quote I saw in the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute:
“America is not like a blanket – one person of unbroken cloth, the same color, the same texture, the same size. America is more like a quilt – many patches, many pieces, many colors, many sizes, all woven and held together by a common thread” – Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson
Thats all for now!
Our day began at the Rosa Parks museum on the Troy University campus. While walking towards the museum, our group learned interesting facts about one another and passed an outdated Greyhound bus station. The museum is an interactive space in downtown Montgomery in which visitors are able to see the sparks of the bus movement. A video was projected on a three-dimensional bus where the altercation between the bus driver, police, officer, Mrs. Parks, and the community were all a part of. After the video a brief audio clip of Joanne Robinson, an activist who is credited for creating leaflets telling citizens of Montgomery to avoid the bus system, was played. Once in the museum, the first large visible picture shows what the bus looked like the next day– an empty bus with a single passenger. Montgomery lost $3,000 everyday after community members decided to carry on with the bus movement.
The city did not let the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) get car insurance to allow their city members to travel throughout the town. MLK even went as far as London to receive insurance, yet the city still would not accept it. Eventually, the MIA bought cars in the name of different churches in which taxes did not need to be paid and insurance not had. For the almost 400 days, volunteers of the churches in the greater Montgomery area drove community members around. Cars could only make four trips per day, and carry four passengers at a time. Drivers and travelers had to be intuitive as officers kept their eye on every move of the MIA, waiting find a reason to stop the movement. Fortunately, the bus movement ended (due to faulty cars) within hours of the time Browder v. Gayle case ruled bus segregation in Montgomery was unconstitutional.
After the museum, we were lucky enough to volunteer at the Resurrection Catholic K-8 School. I was able to work with Mrs. Graham’s 4th grade class on math, reading, and history. Not only was working with students very rewarding, it was validating telling someone how to multiply 12 x 12, sound out “sensational,” and spell the word “secede.” After only being in the room for a few hours, I learned all of the children’s names and left each one with a hug, and them asking if I would come back tomorrow.
For dinner, we ate delicious burrito bowls and then reflected on the movie from last night as well as talked about a passage from the book Between the World and Me. Although I have already seen the documentary 3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets, the movie still surprises me with the lack of respect and blatant disregard for black youth. Jordan Davis is dead, and his story becomes yet another case of an unarmed black teen who is killed. We ended the conversation by speaking on guilt and privilege and how we can use our education here and in Portland to further the cause of racial equity and social justice.
Unlike the past five days of our immersion, today was the least jam-packed with things to do and learn about. Instead it was more about experiencing the immediate surroundings of Resurrection Parish, the place we are stationed at in Montgomery, Alabama.
In the morning we were able to attend Sunday mass at Resurrection, which was really neat to notice the differences in how mass is conducted down here versus what we know in the Pacific Northwest. Young children did some interpretive dancing to open up the space for the service, the beautiful gospel choir sang almost the entire time, and at the end Reverend Manuel of the parish brought each of us from the immersion up to the front and thanked us for joining the community in prayer, learning, and celebration.
Afterwards a bunch of us were able to take time and call our maternal figures and wish them a happy mother’s day, and just take a few hours to relax, catch up on rest, snack, and hang out and enjoy each other’s company.
Then we decided to get our bodies moving to do something else in terms of exploring the area around us in Montgomery. We ended up going to Jackson Island about 15 minutes away, where the small town was featured in the movie Big Fish! It was so incredibly cool for those of us who grew up with that movie to see that little strip of abandoned houses and the tree line where children throw their shoes up to hang. But even for those in our group who hadn’t been exposed to the movie, just noticing the differences of the water around the little island, and the ways the long hanging trees swayed all over was a special southern experience that we otherwise might not have been able to have.
Then we returned back to Resurrection and were able to rest more and make dinner- chili and cornbread- and now are waiting to watch a documentary. We’re either going to watch The House I Live In, which tackles our nation’s history of the war on drugs and how it has affected mass incarceration, or 3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets, which digs deep into the story of how Jordan Davis, a young black man, was killed by a white man for “playing his car music too loudly.”
Until next time~~
Emma, a proud participant on Civil Rights Immersion