Rudy Solis ’18 — Today, we visited the Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma, Alabama where we were able to learn about the history of this church, its role during the Civil Rights Movement, and about the experience of a foot soldier that formed part of the Civil Rights Movement (CRM), named Dianne Harris. Harris shared how she became involved in the CRM, about her experience meeting Martin Luther King Jr. and other prominent figures (i.e. John Lewis), and her experience as a foot soldier in the famous Bloody Sunday that took place in Selma. Hearing Harris tell her story brought the Bloody Sunday of 1965 to life, enabling me to see what she saw as she attempted to get herself and her younger sibling away from the police officer that followed them from the Edmund Pettus Bridge to the front steps of the Brown Chapel AME Church. This story was very persuasive as it is about a 14-year-old, 10th grade student and her 12-year-old brother who sacrificed their school time, but, most importantly, their lives because they aspired to one day see their mother successfully vote.
We then walked the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which was disturbing and educating at the same time as I was able to vividly envision hundreds of innocent people running towards safety as tear gas travelled through the air and policemen fiercely rode their horses down the bridge beating anyone and everyone who they were able to get their hands on. Being able to walk down the Edmund Pettus Bridge was special to me as I recognize the sacrifices made by those who were murdered, beat, and humiliated for seeking their right to vote, and for being non-whites.
Niki Kazahaya ’18 — This morning, we arrived at the Historic Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Selma, AL. We met with Diane Harris and Evelyn Babcock, two longtime members of Brown Chapel and individuals involved with the Civil Rights Movement. As a fifteen-year-old student, Harris became increasingly frustrated with the arbitrary and ambiguous evaluations her parents had to face when registering to vote, thus leading to her heavy involvement with the Selma to Montgomery marches.
Interacting with Diane Harris has made what the material we have previously covered much more tangible and real. In Politics of the Civil Rights Movement with Dr. Gelbman, we have briefly touched on how this era is often perceived and framed to be a very distant event. However, being able to meet an individual who walked alongside prominent individuals like Dr. King or John Lewis is an alarming reminder that times of racial divide and discrimination was actually not that long ago. Furthermore, I think hearing the stories of Harris forced many of us to reflect on the Civil Rights Movement in relation to the current state of racial tension in the United States. In particular, Harris ended her talk by saying something along the lines of “We’ve come a long way since 1965, but the struggle continues…” Even fifty-two years after Selma and Montgomery, she remains still very active and dedicated to cause. As she uttered the words “the struggle continues,” I think many of us left Brown Chapel AME Church with a renewed sense of inspiration and conviction to approach these difficult racial issues that continue to be pervasive in the United States.
After visiting Selma, we also visited the Civil Rights Memorial of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in Montgomery, AL. A main attraction of the SPLC was a circular granite monument inscribed with the names of martyrs during the Civil Rights Movement. As an ode to King’s famous words “until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream,” water flows from the center of the monument and over the engravings of each name. Visiting this museum touched on an important theme we have discussed throughout the semester. With each reading or discussion in PSC-210, we try to think about how it shapes our understanding of what is referred to the “master narrative”, or the traditional synopsis of the Civil Rights Movement. One flaw I have noticed with the master narrative is that it tends to oversimplify the Civil Rights Movement as being led only by individuals like Dr. King, President Kennedy, and President Johnson while glazing over numerous other individuals. I appreciated the attention to detail in the museum’s effort to document and honor the individuals that still played pivotal roles but are often neglected in the traditional narrative.
Jacques Boulais ’19 — Wednesday November, 22, 2017: The fourth day of our adventure through the deep south studying the civil rights movement. We woke up at the Embassy Suites in Birmingham, Alabama. The bus left at 8 AM but our group of students had already adapted to the road trip lifestyle. We had already visited Nashville, Atlanta, Selma, and many monuments of significance in between. Our course has been immersive from day one with readings, podcasts, and first-hand documents from the civil rights movement, however, the immersion trip has made the textbooks come to life.
We arrived in Selma, Alabama, at Brown Chapel where we heard the personal accounts of Dianne Harris during the marches in 1965. After we listened to her moving stories of volunteering as a high school aged protester, we all linked arms and sang “We Shall Overcome,” a popular freedom song that became the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. Our classes were unified and inspired by the courageous work of the foot soldiers that marched before us as we marched on the memorial trail to the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge. We stopped by a trail marker that had a picture of Diane when she was marching in 1965. Seeing her stand next to her monument made the movement come to life. All of a sudden, the movement that had seemed so distant when were studying in the classroom was right before our eyes. It was a surreal moment walking through Selma and over the bridge thinking about what I would have done if I was a part of the march. While we walked I couldn’t help but think about how different life was in Selma just over 50 years ago. Although we have seen the monuments of many tragedies, there has been much progress in the south.
Arlen Taliaferro ’20 — Being in Selma, at least for me was such a humbling experience. You know, you hear so much about about what happened in Selma and Montgomery. And to actually be on the very soil where so many prominent leaders of the Civil Rights Movement walked and fought for my Rights today is just really moving. Sitting in the historic Brown AME Chapel and listening to Dianne Harris give her account of Blood Sunday and marching to Montgomery was very surreal. Having that eye witness account made visualizing the events more personal and real; not the folklore story we usually receive. Going of that, getting the opportunity to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge where Bloody Sunday occurred was another insane experience. Having the opportunity to place where everything happened in person is unheralded. This has been the opportunity of a lifetime and I’m glad to be apart of #wallyonwheels2017
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.
Lamar Boudoin ’20 — “Sweet Home Alabama.” From Magic City to Tragic City. Our stop in Birmingham, Alabama at Magnolia BBQ and Fish was great. Even though the food was spot on, this is not what caught my eyes and swept me right up off of my feet. Within the restaurant were numerous hand drawn portraits of many black influential people who have made big names for themselves whether in music, comedy, acting, and civil rights movements. The owner of the shop gave us a brief presentation on 4th street or as the area was known back in the day “Black Wall Street.” The many black owned businesses that lined up among this street was where most of the black people spent their day to have a great time away from the nonsense of segregation. This was the only place where blacks felt truly free. Hearing about how Afton Lee, who came from enslaved parents, became the richest black man, and man, in Birmingham, Alabama back in the 1900s showed me that it doesn’t matter where you start, it is all about where and how you finish. Hearing about someone who actually came from nothing and made a name for himself somehow, enough to lead a truly effective was truly an inspiring moment for me.
Along with that, the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church was horrible but what came as a result of it was also inspiring. A couple years after the bombing, a beautiful stained-glass window was given to the church from England. The window was a portrait of a black crucified Christ who had one hand pushing away segregation and injustice while the other hand reaches out offering forgiveness. People from all over the world knew about what had taken placed and were donating all they could to help the church with whatever they needed. This wasn’t only a southern or “Land of the Free” problem, this was a problem that the world knew needed to be put to a halt. This event scattered throughout the minds of many individuals who only knew the right thing to do was to help; Discrimination and profiling will get us nowhere in America.
Hearing the many first-hand stories from two men who were actually involved in the many Birmingham events and protests was very rewarding. Hearing the pain in their voice every time they told us a story about a death or events that had happened took an overwhelming toll on me. Everything they said was connecting to me as if I was there in the exact moment with them. Their personal stories of meeting Dr. King and being involved in the movement at young ages was breathtaking and it just encourages me to do something to help better and change the world. We all have to start somewhere so why not me. Better yet, why not us?
James Williams ’20 — Even though I grew up knowing the stories and the songs of the Civil Rights movement, seeing it, being there, hearing it and experiencing what had happened during that time took my breath away. Not only did we get to see the pictures, watch the videos and be in the same spot where some of the tragic and horrific events occurred but we had the chance to close our eyes and place ourselves in the shoes of these activist and leaders. One moment that emotionally dimmed my soul and brought me to the realization of the Civil rights movement would be when we visited the 16th Street Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama. To see the head stones of Addie Mae Collins (Age 14), Denise McNeil (Age 11), Carole Robertson (Age 14) and Cynthia Wesley (Age 14), who had their lives taken far too soon at a place of safety and refuge, was extremely hard to cope with. I could not understand that someone hated a race enough to bomb a church killing four innocent young girls who were getting ready for “Youth Day” early that Sunday morning. Growing up in an African American church, I always felt a presence of peace and comfort at African American churches, even at funerals the atmosphere would uplift your spirits and give you peace of mind, but walking into the 16th Baptist church seeing the photos, watching the documentary and seeing the headstones made me feel the real effect of the Civil Rights movement allowing me to understand why so many people risked and lost their lives for this cause. Going on this trip to the south has impacted me in multiple ways not only by teaching me my history but teaching me how the past plays a vital role in the present and future and provides little comfort knowing that America has changed and is still changing as we all come together showing peace, love respect and equality.