Civil Rights Trip: Discovering the Unknown

Patrick Jahnke ’18 — Today was different. On most days of this trip, we have travelled to different museums or churches and talked with tour guides and people in the area. However, since today was Thanksgiving, the museums were closed, and the tour guides were off with their families. So instead, today we walked around Meridian and Jackson, Mississippi looking at different Civil Rights Movement and Blues/music markers. These markers taught me that there is a lot that I do not know.

As a black studies minor, I have spent the last two or so years mostly studying African American culture and history. There are subjects that I have learned over and over again and some that I learned for the first time, but I’ve tended to think that after two years, I knew a lot of the history. Today showed me that I was wrong. So much of African American history, especially the musical aspects of the history and the importance of music in the culture, is still foreign to me. No matter how much I continue to learn, there will always be more for me to discover.

I think that this shows the importance of the markers being up. Most of them that we have seen were installed within the last couple of years, which was surprising to most of us, but does make a little sense. Everyone learns about the Civil Rights Movement in schools, but the American education system seems to only teach the parts of the Movement that they want to show. We learn about Martin Luther King Jr and the importance of non-violence, but leave out other important leaders, such as Malcolm X. We learn about protests such as boycotts, sit-ins, and the Freedom Riders. But we don’t hear about the repercussions of those protests, such as the Freedom Riders being attacked multiple times and churches being bombed. These markers not only tell people that these things happened, but show them exactly where they happened. History, no matter how much a country wants to forget it, needs to never be forgotten. These markers are important because they teach people walking around about events that they have never heard about. These markers are important because they help people discover the unknown.

Civil Rights Trip: Shadwick

Elijah Shadwick ’20 — As we continued our journey through the Deep South into Thanksgiving Day, I was able to reflect on the economic aspect of the Civil Rights Movement and the effect it had on these small towns throughout our trip. Today, we stopped in Meridian, Mississippi and spent a half hour exploring the Civil Rights Trail present there. As one of my colleagues pointed out, Meridian was a “ghost town”, void of the city life present in some of our other visits like Birmingham and Montgomery. It seemed to me that many of the smaller towns we visited had, at one point, been extremely popular for their historical significance and the citizens of these towns used this popularity for self-profit. After Meridian, we left and visited Jackson, Mississippi where we walked through an area seemingly devoid of the vibrancy and life so evidently present in the 1960’s. This may be because it was Thanksgiving Day, but I doubt that the turnout was any different on any other day. This was a disappointment to me mainly because if we do not pay attention to history, it is destined to repeat itself. By leaving important artifacts and sites in dilapidated conditions we are allowing a terrible past to fade away, and this realization scares because although this trip has been informative and educational, I know that much blood was shed on the original trek and I do not wish for those sacrifices to be for nothing.

Civil Rights Trip: Frey

“Wandering between two worlds, one dead, / The other powerless to be born, / With nowhere yet to rest my head…”-Stanzas From the Grande Chartreuse, Matthew Arnold

Charles Frey ’19 — Walls are decaying and caved in. Windows are busted out, shards of jagged glass cover the sidewalk, and the bars in front of what used to be a door are locked tight. The words “No Trespassing” is seen on the side of the building, next to some green graffiti.

Walk two blocks toward the square. A grassy field in front of a law building. Bright white, tall, and imposing. Surrounding it on all sides are equally impressive buildings. On the other side of the street are brick businesses, closed for the holiday.

These were the two sides of Meridian, Mississippi I saw while following the town’s Civil Rights Trail. Both formed an emotion I’ve felt elsewhere along the journey south. It’s a feeling hard to put my finger on, but one I can only describe as “time-locked.” I don’t want to say regressive because to be regressive would imply falling back. I can’t say progressive because, while there are many signs of moving forward, historic sites are fading into obscurity.

Meridian is time-locked, unsure of how to move forward yet determined to extinguish its past. Yes, information plaques mark sites with facts about people, dates, and events, but the locations in which these events happened are disappearing. And Meridian isn’t the only place.

In Selma, Alabama we walked from the Brown Chapel A.M.E Church to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and along the way I witnessed similar scenes of poverty combined with progress. An informational kiosk about Civil Rights leaders had been vandalized and just recently was replaced. Even with the new replacement, the informational canvas was already beginning to fray.

In Anniston, Alabama we walked a different Civil Rights Trail, one that held a focus on the Freedom Riders. While interacting with local security in the courthouse, we asked for directions to the nearest plaque, to which the white security guard paused and asked his partner, “Those information things we got last year?”

In Monteagle, Tennessee our bus stopped briefly at the site where the Highlander Folk School stood—a location that trained many of the Civil Rights Movement’s prolific leaders such as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Because of the school’s involvement with the CRM, it closed its doors and moved to Knoxville in 1961. It’s original site? An abandoned shell of a building surrounded by rural homes.

Over the years, there hasn’t been enough action taken to maintain these historic sites. Despite the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, attitudes in the South have hardly changed regarding the preservation of African American heritage. Yes, the nation has propelled past segregation, but ignorance has halted the progress of select southern towns—progress that should have happened 50 years ago.

Civil Rights Trip: Parks

Greyhound Bus Station Sign

Brian Parks ’18 — The today was a really interesting day. We took a walk through the downtowns of Jackson and Meridian downtowns. When we arrived in both cities the location seemed like a ghost town most likely because it was Thanksgiving Day.

We first started in Meridian and something I noticed that was really strange that they had a lot of horses made of stone throughout downtown. I assumed that the town really loved horses and were used abundantly in the past. However, I did research on the horse figures and I found they were used to promote community pride, spur tourism, instill an appreciation for art and to help the children that are orphans. I found this very fascinating about the city.

Trumpet Records

After the short trip in Meridian, we visited Jackson Mississippi which was very memorable. We first took a long walk throughout downtown and through a neighborhood. I quickly noticed how run down the city looked from an economic sense. Although it seemed like an underdeveloped environment we still saw monuments with a rich history. We walked by many music commemorations of Blues and learned the impact it had on the city. Some of these industries included Okey Records and Trumpet Records which are very prominent studios in during their respected times. After seeing the rich music history of Jackson our next stops were of very sad moments during the Civil Rights Movement.

We visited Jackson State University and Medgar Evers house where he was murdered. At both of these locations, you can see the sacrifices of people lives lead to the success of the Civil Rights Movements. This reminded me of the quote by Fredrick Douglas, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

This made me appreciate all those who paved the way for all minorities and myself. There are no words that can do justice to give the men and women gratitude and respect they deserve and who gave their lives to people then and generations to come.

Civil Rights Trip: Swift

Henry Swift ’18 — Today we woke up in Anniston Alabama and went on a walking tour of the town. We followed the “Anniston Civil Rights Trail”, which included the former bus station that the Freedom Riders stopped at. The protestors got off the bus here and were beaten up by a mob, the same bus was firebombed leaving town. We made a quick stop there to see the site of the firebombing, and after that we left for Birmingham where we saw the 16th St. Baptist church and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. What stuck out to me the most from today was the difference between the white and black people that lived through the civil rights movement. We talked to a lady at our hotel this morning that was a local in Alabama. When we asked her about her experience during the sixties, she said that she did not really notice any change in her life, which struck me as a prime example of white privilege. I thought this because she was able to live through a time of monumental change and barely notice it. We later talked to a tour guide who met Dr. King and was active in the Birmingham Movement. He treasures his time with Dr. King and his involvement in Birmingham. It was heartwarming to see his eyes light up as he talked about his time with the famed reverend. Another site that really stuck with me was the Birmingham civil Rights Institute. The exhibit did an excellent job of showing the growth of Jim Crow from the 1960’s to present day. Part of the exhibit showed a white and a black classroom side by side, and I thought the contrast images was extremely important. The white classroom was modern and well appointed, whereas the black classroom was a one room cabin. The stark difference between the two was startling. That exhibit demonstrated again that segregated facilities were not and had never been ‘equal’. It showed that separate but equal was a myth and how bad the difference between white and black facilities was.


Civil Rights Road Trip: Derse’s Blog

Joshua Derse ’18 — As noted in the vlog with Adam, visiting the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee was a great capstone to the entire trip. The Museum did a fantastic job at telling the story of colored people’s struggle for equality and civil rights from the early days of slavery to the present day. What impacted me the most was how in depth and detailed the information the museum was when presented to you. Being in the political science part of the course and being a political science major, you do deal a lot with dates and timelines. Doing this can in a way dehumanize the events one is studying and it can cause one to barely scratch the surface as to the real meaning of the events of the Civil Rights Movement. One way that this trip has impacted me is that it has made me understand more the profound struggle of African Americans and others for equality and civil rights in America. Hearing their voices through recordings and having their struggles come to life through the artifacts and primary sources allowed me to view the Civil Rights Movement through a completely different lens. This dynamic and unique view certainly would not have been possible to have if the course and its experiences were solely confined to the Wabash campus.

The music aspect of this course cannot and never should be separated from this immersion experience. The music aspect of the course is invaluable. After this experience I have a whole new understanding for the African American music and even the genre of blues. Talking to Ms. Diane Harriss from Selma, one thing she touched on was how the music of the Civil Rights Movement helped keep her and others around her sane at times. Hearing this made me realize how intertwined the politics and the music of the movement were at the time and even still today. Ms. Harriss’ testimony showed how the music served as the backbone and source of identity for the black community during the Civil Rights Movement.

In Memphis, visiting the Loraine Motel was quite an experience. This was the motel that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated at on April 4th, 1968. Standing in rooms 306 and 307 (King’s rooms) was just a surreal experience. Seeing those rooms in person made the events and the feelings associated with those evets all the more real. Standing in the motel there was definitely a somber feeling at all times. It was almost as if you could feel the mood in the air, the same mood of uneasiness and sadness that followed the death of King. In totality, visiting this museum gave an in-depth look into the complete history of the Civil Rights Movement. The important part was that at no time did I feel that the story the museum told was complete. This conveyed the message that the struggle for civil rights worldwide still goes on.

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