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Civil Rights Road Trip: Wally on Wheels

Neil Dittmann ’19 — Today Wally on Wheels rolled through Aniston, Alabama, the site of the Freedom Rider bus bombing, and Birmingham, Alabama. As we tour all these places that are significant to the Civil Rights Movement and America’s sordid past, I have been reflecting on my own role in today’s social issues. While I believe in progressive politics, I have taken a more passive approach to advocating for what I believe in. Sure, I’ll read a few articles every day, maybe have a discussion every now and then—but in terms of action I really cannot say I have done much. We have had the opportunity to speak with a variety of people who lived through the Civil Rights Movement, and I have found myself in awe of their courage and tenacity. These were people who wanted to make the world a better place for others: people who were willing to die for their beliefs. When I am older I want to be able to reflect on my life and say that I did what I could to make the world a more tolerant and peaceful place. I am not entirely sure what that looks like at the moment, but my experiences so far on this trip have reminded me of the importance of individual involvement and engagement. It is easy to do nothing, and I do not want my life to be defined by apathy.

When applying for the History of African American Music class, one of my main interests was exploring another musical tradition. I am a classically-trained oboist and music is a huge part of my life. One notable difference I have come across is the difference in the function of music between the classical and African American musical traditions. In classical music, the function is mostly entertainment and individual fulfillment. With a few notable exceptions, the way classical music responds to current events and intellectual and social movements is more abstract and really not very accessible to the common person. In contrast, African American music has a much more clearly defined role for the individual and communities. For any time in America’s history, you can look at the music being created in African American communities and be able to know something about how people lived. This has been one of the most interesting components of taking this class—the process of looking at a piece of music in context and being able to glean the essence of that time.