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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.