Gage Ulery ’18 —During our stop in Memphis, Tennessee, the African American music class made a trip to the Rock’ n’ Soul Museum. This museum included an interactive audio tour that provided us with great information about the formation of blues, R&B, and rock’ n’ roll. Some of the information provided to us was talked thoroughly about in class with Professor Spencer. Before this class and the Memphis stop, I had no idea how important Memphis was to African American rights and music. Memphis radio station WDIA was the first station in the United States to have all African American DJs and was the most popular radio station along Beale Street. Imagine how much different would our radio stations be today if WDIA had not come along. Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records, would record any person playing any type of music as long as they were good. Dewey Phillips was one of the first white radio DJs to broadcast R&B music to an all-white audience. All of these influential factors played a much larger role in the Civil Rights Movement then I realized. After the music class finished up at the Rock’ n’ Soul Museum, some students walked to the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. This trip was powerful because it put everything we had learned about in previous classes and this class into reality. To think that less than 60 years ago, some groups of people were not treated fairly and killed puts into perspective how messed up our nation was. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to learn more about our past and the Civil Rights Movement that changed the United States of American.
Enrique Vargas ’19 — This Civil Rights Trip was a really amazing experience; a week that I will most likely never forget.
Even though we only left one week ago, I still feel like a completely changed person. Seeing these historical civil rights locations in the flesh really brought things to reality for me. One of the dangerous misconceptions that arises when you only have a history book as a reference, is that these events feel like they took place long ago. What this trip brought to reality for me is that the Civil Rights Movement did not take place one thousand or two thousand years ago. These events are in recent history; there are still people alive from that period to tell their story. We heard a lot of stories this week; and we visited a lot of different places.
The place that struck me the most was the Lorraine Motel, which we visited while we were in Memphis, Tennessee. This is the location where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed on April 4th, 1968. I first read about King’s assassination, surprisingly, when I was in elementary school. I never thought in my entire life I would actually be able to visit this location. It is very prideful to see how King’s life goes on. Even though he was killed here, people have gone through greats efforts to ensure that he is not forgotten. The museum educated me on the complete history of the African American struggle. All the way from slavery, through the Civil Rights Movement, and continuing to this day. It showed me that there is still work to be done for equality, but to also be respectful for the activists who lived before me, and sacrificed their lives so I could live a better one. This is one of the aspects of the trip that will live with me forever; be kind and pay your respects to those that came before you.
I would not be in the right to ignore this next thing. As we were traveling along in the trip, I took notice of the high percentage of run-down neighborhoods we passed by, and how many homeless people we encountered on the side of the street. It just made me confront the fact that there is still a lot of work to be done in the U.S. about poverty. We like to ignore it, and say that it only happens in other countries, but not the U.S. I think people with this mindset need to go on a trip like this, so they can see firsthand that they are wrong. Something needs to change; I think it starts with us immersing ourselves and seeing that a change is needed.
Benjamin Cox ’20 — We spent our final night in Memphis, Tennessee. Out of every stop on the trip, Memphis offered the most opportunities to experience a strong presence of music. The city seemed to run on music, as if everything would stop if blues or rock was not to be heard in the streets. Upon arrival on the evening of the 24th, we were able to explore Memphis. A couple classmates and I ended up in Alfred’s, a restaurant on Beale Street. Given its location, live music accompanied dinner. We finished the night atop a parking garage, taking in the sights of neon lights and latenight activity.
On the morning of the 25th, the two classes separated. While the political science class went to a civil rights museum, the music course headed to the Rock & Soul Museum in downtown Memphis. There I was able to view the progression of blues and rock through listening to examples of the music across the eras. It was a rewarding experience to hear information that I had already learned in class, which heightened the museum experience, as I was able to more fully appreciate the exhibits and what the music really meant to the development of our current culture.
Given that the return trip awaited, we had limited time in Memphis following our trip to the museum. I used the couple hours I had to walk the streets. It was interesting the see the city during the day. The rougher edges of Memphis that had been masked by night were laid bare. Seeing abandoned buildings and apparent poverty was both saddening and valuable. It was sad given the vitality that Memphis once had. That being said, it was valuable because it represented reality. Without the ugliness and harshness of life one could not fully appreciate the blues genre. As we boarded the bus to return to Crawfordsville, I felt much more connected to both my course material and my Wabash brothers.
Luke Rowles ’19 — This experience has been eye-opening. I have seen things that I never thought I would get to see, I have visited places that I have always wanted to go, and I have developed a deeper appreciation for a multitude of things. Visiting these towns and seeing the unmistakable poverty is heartbreaking. Visiting these museums and learning about the racism and bigotry that existed is unnerving. Many times, I found myself shaking my head, wondering how anyone could let these things happen or think that it was okay. It’s comforting to know that we have made great strides, but we still have a long way to go.
I have greatly enjoyed learning about how music played an important role in making those strides. Today we drove from Jackson, Mississippi to Indianola, Mississippi moving up the Delta, passing open fields, many of which were used for cotton farming. As we rode, we listened to blues music. Much of the old blues music talked about the hardships that African Americans faced, including picking cotton during slavery, so it was emotional to pair the two together. We stopped at the B.B. King Museum, who is known as the “King of Blues” in music history. It was interesting and inspiring to see the impact that he had; his music brought blacks and whites together and he was a lovable ambassador to the power of the blues. After the museum, we got to see a live blues musician, which brought the experience to life even more. On one of our longer drives, we watched the movie Ray, which showed the impact Ray Charles had by refusing to play a segregated show.
Wally On Wheels has been an invaluable opportunity. It is one thing to listen to the music of African American artists, but it is another thing to study it. Furthermore, it is one thing to study African American music in the classroom, but it is another thing to immerse yourself in its history by traveling the South in order to visit the sites associated with your teachings. With that, I would like to thank Wabash College, Professor Reed Spencer, Professor Shamira Gelbman, and anyone who helped make this immersion trip possible; it is something that I will never forget.
Justin Raters ’19 — Today, the Wally on Wheels Immersion Trip visited the BB King museum and Club Ebony, which was once one of the most prominent African American clubs in Mississippi. These stops further showed me two things: the importance of learning unfamiliar cultures, and the importance of preserving history. These lessons have been taught throughout my schooling, but I was able to experience them more personally when visiting these sites. I can say that these were lessons that were frequently in the back of my mind throughout the day today, as well as during the entire trip thus far.
Being from Crawfordsville, I have not had much experience with blues music or African American culture as a whole. I have heard blues music before and studied it some in class, but the BB King museum helped to bring the history of the genre and culture of blues to life. It taught me why blues music was so important in the lives of the artists and the emotions it filled the listeners with. To me, the blues has always just been another genre of music, but to African Americans, especially during the 1900s, it was much more than just music — it was a way to express themselves and overcome the many struggles that they were faced with on a daily basis.
While at Club Ebony, the DJ spent some time explaining to us the history of the club and why it was significant. What stood out to me the most was that one of the owners had renovated the building so that the original look of the interior was hidden. While to her it may have looked better, she covered up the history of the club—including posters, ceiling fixtures, and glass-blocked walls. When the museum gained control of the club, they discovered these things hidden away and brought them back to life. Through their leadership the club lives on through the people that continue to perform there like in its hay-day; history really does live on.
Darren Dartis ’18 —After traveling over 1300 miles throughout the South, we made a stop in Indianola, Mississippi which is the town that the blues legend B.B. King grew up. This town was the smallest we have encountered while on the trip but you could almost feel the history when we approached the B.B. King Museum. As we got off the bus, there was already blues music playing from the site and continued as we first began the tour of the museum. I personally did not know how significant B.B. King was to not only blues music but also civil rights history. My favorite part of the museum was being able to see all of artifacts they had on display which ranged from customized guitars to vintage cameras from the 1950s. It was great to see how one man had an effect on blues music which paved the way for him to have a positive impact on the entire world.
After the museum we ate at B.B. King’s nightclub, Club Ebony. This was by far my favorite stop because of the rich history and feel as you entered the venue. We had a very tasty lunch while the DJ played a wide range of blues music. I found it really hard to sit down because I had an urge to get up and dance the entire time. I kept tapping my foot to the beat and clapping along just trying to soak it all in. After lunch a local artist came and played some live blues music. This was the most meaningful moment to me because I have heard blues music before, but I have never felt it. I kept thinking back to how it would been back in the day when Club Ebony was thriving. Towards the end of the performance I started to understand the importance of blues music and culture and why it resonated with so many people across the globe. Music has been proven to dramatically change lives musician and the listener.
Andrew Hamilton ’18 — Even though I am in the Political Science class for this trip, I especially enjoyed the BB King museum since I love Blues music. The sites we saw today had me thinking about not only BB King and other historic Blues musicians, but also their impact on the Civil Rights Movement. I had a great time learning about BB King’s life in the museum. I find it fascinating that so many popular bands, and some of my favorite bands, were great admirers of BB King and other classic Blues musicians. Bands that I love like the Grateful Dead, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Clapton, all incorporated traditional Blues songs into their repertoire. Because of this I knew about half of the songs played at Club Ebony by heart: Smokestack Lightning, Big Boss Man, etc. I truly believe that these bands were doing their part in the Civil Rights Movement by playing these Blues songs and bringing them to a much wider audience. The Ray Charles movie we watched on the way to the Ida B. Wells museum only confirmed this idea for me. By refusing to play under Jim Crow laws, Ray Charles was doing his part to end segregation and discrimination in America.
To touch on our visit to the Ida B. Wells museum—I am looking forward to taking the docent’s advice and reading some of Ida B. Wells books. None of us were very informed about Ida B. Wells going into the museum but we were coming out. The docent also mentioned Ida B. Wells in the same context as Susan B. Anthony and Jane Adams, two females who I have been studying in my political theory class this semester. Perhaps it is an unfortunate testament to the subconscious racism in our society that we typically do not consider Ida B. Wells in the same light as Susan B. Anthony or Jane Adams.
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.