Civil Rights Road Trip: Azar – Eye-opening and inspiring

Dan Azar at Fisk University

Dan Azar ’18 — Visiting Fisk University was the most eye-opening and inspiring portion of our trip today. The Fisk Jubilee Singers were formed as an all black a capella group to raise funds for their university. Their repertoire initially consisted of “white man’s music” as they did not sing African American spirituals. Spirituals reminded them of a dark history of slavery. They later sang some black folk music as they toured the United States. I was inspired by how important the singers were to the history of African American music.

Black musicians earlier on who toured only toured as minstrels to mock black culture through jokes, dances, and catchy tunes. The Fisk Jubilee Singers toured not to mock, but to show the world that they are talented and can perform as classically trained musicians just as white people can. They gave audiences a genuine look at African American music and culture.

To see how this small group of African American musicians, who were about my age at the time, help their university through music truly inspired me as a musician and question why music is so important to me. The eye-opening thing about this whole experience is how the Fisk Jubilee Singers did not settle for music for the sake of music. What I mean is, they sang with a purpose. They wanted to show the world that they are proud of who they are and that being a classically trained musician is not something limited solely to white European artists.

What made me feel so inspired is how they used music to save their university. Their actions make me truly discern the role of music in my life and think about how I can sing and perform with purpose. After all, the music I’ve been privileged to study in this class has a deep cultural purpose. It’s important to maintain that deep cultural importance in a variety of genres of music and remind ourselves why we sing.

Civil Rights Road Trip: Big(gs) News From the South

Nathan Biggs ’20 — Today we took on Atlanta. The hustle and bustle of the big city proved no match for us Wallies and overall I had an excellent experience. Two that stood out the most was my interaction with the Atlanta Center for Civil and Human Rights and the presentation of hip hop music by Dr. Lakeyta Bonnette- Bailey.

Nathan Biggs at the Atlanta Center for Civil and Human Rights Museum.

My day started out in a Georgia State University Classroom with Dr. Bailey learning about political hip hop music that she had studied. The idea of rap music being political shocked me, seeing as I don’t typically listen to rap music for the message. As many will usually say, “rap is degrading and a terrible genre of music,” yet I learned today that that isn’t always the case. There are indeed rap songs out there, by mainstream artists, which focus heavily on the social and political injustices that are currently happening. While looking at the lyrics I came across a new light of thought. It is the judgment and stereotype that these songs are trying to break to get excellent ideas out about current events, yet no one wants to give them the time to listen to them because they fall under the rap category. I remember a specific line from a song that we listened to that said “I know they won’t play this on the radio,” which is completely true. Of course the argument can be made that some of the words used in the song are too explicit to be aired on the radio, but this is easily defeated if a censored version was released. Yet it still won’t be aired because of its political nature in a genre that isn’t considered to have political messages.

The second half of my day consisted of going to the Atlanta Center for Civil and Human Rights. The center itself is beautifully constructed and from the outside one would ever be able to guess how many wonders lay inside its walls. The highlight of the museum visit was the sit-in simulation. I honestly felt like I was present at a real sit-in and the overall experience was exhilarating. One can read multiple books about the sit-ins but not many get to experience a simulation as close to the real thing as possible. I walked away from the exhibit with a complete different feeling towards the sit-ins and I see the people who conducted them in a new way. I only experienced 90 seconds of a sit-in but it was almost all that I could handle. To know that the protestors couldn’t turn around or acknowledge the white southerners harassing them truly shows a test of their will and determination.

Overall, I left this day with many new ideas and different views of thing that we had been learning in class. The struggle and determination of African Americans in today’s world and the Civil Right’s world is apparent to me now more than it has ever been.

Haro’s trip report: feeling and experiencing the civil rights era

Juan Haro ’19 — Today one of the locations we went to was the National Center for Civil Rights and Human Rights in Atlanta, GA. Going to this museum really open my eyes of how much activist had to go through for this movement. It showed me that many lives were lost for this movement, and also showed me all the pain people had to go through. There were also many lives of innocent children that were lost because of all the violence and hatred from the people that didn’t what equality. The reason I say this is because there was a part of the museum that caught my eyes.

The broken wood

In the picture right is wood from the church that got destroyed in Selma, AL by people that were against the movement, and those are the four innocent girls that died in that event. Seeing this made me feel angry towards the people that did this, but also made me feel sad because of how young and how much life these girls had left. This exhibit had the girls pictures on glass and girls singing on the speakers. This really helps someone that was not alive during this get immersed into this event. Since this happened in the 1960s , it is very difficult to actually get actual experiences from events in the civil rights era. A museum like this is the only way that one can experience what happen in the past. That is why coming to the museum really helped me feel and experience what is was like in civil rights era. That is something that movies and readings will not do because one can only imagine so much, but seeing it gives one a better perspective.


Civil Rights Road Trip: Payton on the power of music

Thacarion Payton — Day 2 of our trip began with the group meeting Dr. Bonnette-Bailey at Georgia State University. She talked to us about “political rap” and how it affects the listener’s thoughts on various topics including feminism and black nationalism.

Typically, I listen to music as a way to escape daily happenings. However, listening to Dr. Bonnette helped me come to a greater realization that a lot of the music I enjoy highlights many of my daily struggles as a Black man in America. She focused on some mainstream rappers, like 21 Savage, that are most known for the negativity in their songs. This was interesting because the song that Dr. Bonnette chose was able to humanize 21 Savage in a way that his popular music could not. The struggles that rap artists experience, which influence their music, are usually glossed over The song, “Nothin New,” touched on issues of the government flooding Black communities with drugs during the Reagan Era and disenfranchisement.

While Dr. Bonnette focused on the outward effects of rap on those listening, Dr. Richard Allen Farmer of the Crossroads Presbyterian Church talked about how Black music is influenced by other cultures. He spoke on how the Black church will take an “anglo” song and add to it because it does not “move” enough. He stressed the importance of knowing that one version is not better than another, but relates differently culture to culture.

Overall, today reminded me of the communicative power of music. Rap, Gospel, and other forms of African American music, can be used to send various messages. Whether the music communicates fun and leisure or information and critique, it delivers messages that help progress social and political movements in positive directions. It’s only Day 2, but I feel that the remainder of our trip will open my eyes (and ears) more and assist me in better understanding how music influences my everyday judgements.

Civil Rights Road Trip: Reflections of trip by Mettler

Charles Mettler ’18 — While listening to Dr. Bonnette speak on her research, I found her approach to studying politically charged hip hop interesting. I myself have always been very fond of what’s called “conscious rap” and I was most excited to hear Dr. Bonnette speak on it. While I have been aware of political hip hop’s existence (for lack of a better term), I had not actually considered whether it was an effective form of political or social conscious-raising, or whether it was measurable. Of course, Dr. Bonnette does do this and it intrigued me that she was applying social scientific methods to it. Does political rap music influence the political attitudes of the listener? For me, it does. Some of the views I hold now have been inspired by such music. Is political hip hop influential for people that are ideologically distant from its message or who don’t like hip hop? Maybe. This is a testable question that I think Dr. Bonnette is prepared to answer, using science. The point is, I think it’s fantastic that she is using science to answer questions like this.

I felt her ideas and questions begged a larger question about the hip hop tradition. Aren’t politically charged lyrics a defining character of hip hop? I felt she took a long path to coming to this assertion. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to state this outright (maybe she does, I haven’t read her book yet). This evokes another response I had to her talk. Dr. Bonnette put rightfully strong emphasis on the fact that we often claim that hip hop is no longer politically conscious, unlike its roots. She points out that this is false, and in fact most of not all rap artists engage in politically motivated music at some point in their career. What this means and how it relates to my question at the beginning of this paragraph is the recognition that socially and politically charged music is a foundational element of hip hop. Therefore, the reason we see these themes in hip hop is because it is a part of its basis. In her own words, “it’s the voice of the voiceless.”

Overall, I would like to emphasize a few things about my reflection. First, I commend and admire Dr. Bonnette’s use of the scientific method to answer interesting questions about hip hop. Second, I think her questions regarding political hip hop’s effects upon the listener are good questions, and novel, at least to me, considering I fancy myself a fan of political hip hop. Third, she begged an important question regarding hip hop’s origins: if political rap lyrics are so ubiquitous, is it not safe to assume that it was a foundational point for the genre? I choose to reflect on this final point because I think it is often overlooked and underrepresented in the study of hip hop.

Nashville; an interesting case to Ward

Ian Ward ’19 – Today, I along with my classmates visited Nashville, as well as the site of the Highlander school. There was a sense of new understanding, as well as a curiosity and even a sense of awe.

This new understanding was in the realm of me knowing that Nashville was in fact traditionally very segregated, and only after local campaigns and action did substantive change occur. What I mean by this, is that up until a change in policy in November 1960 Nashville was very segregated, and its mayor stood by the policy as just and legal, as well as the way things needed to be. Due to this stance, locals began to conduct peaceful sit-ins in early 1960 and over a period of many months public pressure mounted to the level that lunch counters were desegregated. This new understanding also included in learning about the mastermind of the Nashville movement: James Lawson. This former divinity student with a deep understanding of Gandhi – like protest styles took the lead in teaching non-violent principles to locals and helped the movement become the success that is was.

This learning of Lawson led me to curiosity in the aspect that I have never heard of him in common literature, and outside the Nashville Movement his role seems more behind the scenes. Why? I can’t answer that particular question, however it seems that like many that weren’t the pillars of the Civil Rights Movement, our education system seems to overlook the many and focus on the few that are very recognizable, and at least in theory “easier” to explain.

My awe in Nashville regarding the civil Rights Movement began when, we were able to see a site of a sit in (what was then and is now) a Walgreens. Seeing a place where history happened gives what we have read about more of a purpose. It also makes you realize that behind all the images, the actions that made up the Civil Rights Movement did happen in all of its glory for African Americans and shame for the oppressors. Also, we were able to see the Civil Rights Room at the Nashville Public Library where one quote by Martin Luther King Jr. really sums up the movement in Nashville – “I came to Nashville not to bring inspiration, but to gain inspiration from the great movement that has taken place in this community.” This quote struck me in the aspect that it highlights Nashville’s not only independence from the larger movement, but also highlighted the success of Nashville and that Non-Violence was the way to go to succeed

From Nashville, we stopped briefly at the Highlander Folk School Site, where it is clear that there were in fact that secluded, and also that it is a serene place for learning and contemplation in such a tumultuous time. This is what I personally gathered from day one of Wally on Wheels and I only know that from here my experience will only get better.

Malone Experiences Civil Rights Movement

Rogeno Malone ’20 – Today marked the commencement of the ‘Wally on Wheels’ immersion trip through the south – we traversed through Tennessee and ultimately stopped in Georgia. Throughout the day I have reflected on two experiences and their implications to Civil Rights.

The first, a lunch with Ben Whitehouse, class of ’99, who is currently investigating legal documents from the Highlander Folk School. Highlander was conceived in Tennessee with the vision of building leaders of tomorrow. Highlander equipped it’s students with a social consciousness foreign to the community around it. Additionally, the school exemplified diversity – diverse thought, race, gender, etc. What I discovered from Whitehouse was that the school was investigated and later closed due to negligible charges; furthermore, the community degraded the school’s name with heinous allegations.

What I struggled to comprehend from this interaction was the backlash of the community. Albeit conceived during a period of increased racial tension in the country, Highland produced good.

Civil Rights demonstrators, community leaders, and single-issue activists can trace their non-violent tactics back to the school. Highlander sought to inspire and change the ideologies of students such that their focus shifted from ‘me’ to ‘we.’ I believe this encounter with Whitehouse introduced me to the severity of institutional racism present during the Civil Rights era.

The second, a trip to Fisk University – specifically speaking with Dr. Kwami about the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Before the trip my class, the History of African American Music, learned of the Jubille Singers. This small group of singers, formed mid-19th century, sought to support their institution financially through singing on tours. Initially they were met with backlash; yet, once they performed songs pertinent to their culture – spirituals, their success grew along with their ability to support Fisk. Hearing Dr. Kwami expand on the history of the singers left me in a sense of awe, I am astounded how students my age fearlessly spread their culture to potentially, unreceptive ears.

Overall, I believe that both experiences connect to a theme regarding the Civil Rights Movement and this trip – commitment. It has been theorized that you are invested in a cause if you are willing to die for it. Examples such as Martin Lither King Jr., Highlander students, and the Jubilee singers exemplify this point through their commitment to what they believed, a commitment to justice and change.

Civil Rights Road Trip: David Ortega ’20

Sign at location of Nashville Sit-in during Civil Rights Movement

Sign at location of Nashville Sit-in during Civil Rights Movement

David Ortega ’20 – Our immersion trip began with a brief tour of Nashville, TN by a Wabash alumnus. The alumnus spoke about the history of the Civil Rights Movement and how Nashville was at the time. Immediately, we witnessed pieces of history from the movement still present. The group walked passed a Walgreens that is open and running, which was also open during the CRM. The Walgreens was also where a sit-in took place in 1960 when Walgreens had a lunch counter. The establishment that used to openly support segregation serves as a reminder to present day society of the tensions felt less than a hundred years ago. After, our group went to Capitol Grounds, where we saw monuments and memorials. The most surprising part of this experience was the giant statue commemorating Edward Carmack, who is best known for driving Ida B Wells out of town. Primarily, I had never considered Tennessee as part of the South. Regardless of Tennessee having segregation issues during the CRM, I do not understand the necessity of keeping up the statue of Edward Carmack and hope that it can be removed. We then went to a library in town that has a section dedicated to the civil rights era. It was here we watched a documentary further explaining the sit-ins that occurred in Tennessee and the societal relations of the time. It was an amazing opportunity to observe in person the strategic planning and training needed when implementing non-violent marches that receive violence in return out of racial hate. This made me debate about how the location of Tennessee played a factor in the amount of violence used by white officers and police compared to town in Mississippi. Regardless of the severity, it amazed me how active college students were in the CRM regardless of advice and demand of authorities or parents.