Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Best Trip Ever

For as long as I can remember I've been fascinated with the Civil Rights Movement. I deeply admire every single person that ever shed blood or even simply passed out flyers during this period. Because of them I was able to go on a trip across the country with students from all backgrounds and am able to live my life the way I do every day.

Being an African American Studies major I hear about the places we went almost every day, but today in class David Barr III came to speak with us and described how some of these places have inspired some of his art. You could hear the inspiration in his voice and I wanted to cry because I knew exactly what he was feeling.

I wish I could pick 'the highlight of the trip' but for me it was all better than I expected. I still cannot believe that I was inside the house that Dr. King grew up in, that I walked the halls (even if it was just the entry way) of Central High in Little Rock, that I walked across the Edmund Pettis Bridge, went to the Southern Poverty Law Center, and saw with my own eyes where Dr. King was shot and where the shot came from.

I have always wondered who the people were that legally handled modern day civil rights cases and I found them in the Southern Poverty Law Center! I have always felt that I need to do something to destroy discrimination and I will definitely be looking into working for this organization.

All of the places listed above were great but they would not be relevant had it not been for the wonderful people we had the pleasure of meeting. Mary Louise Smith was jailed for refusing to give up her seat prior to Rosa Parks and it's thanks to her that I was able to go on this trip! Mr. and Mrs. Graetz sacrificed so much and put their family's lives at risk so that I can walk down the street and live my life in peace! Ms. Ella Bell is improving schools so that children can have the best possible education! Ms JoAnne (but I'll stick with calling her Ma'am!!) participated in bloody sunday and the march from Selma to Birmingham and thanks to her I was able to vote for our first black President! I love the fact that she is still very actively involved in making progress and in preserving history so that one day our children will be exposed to this history. Rev Billy Kyles is encouraging people all over the country to never give up on their dreams, something that I'm sure will inspire people to get out there and change the world.

Despite the fact that our 44 personalities clashed at times, we all had some great times together and always managed to turn a negative into a positive. Despite the hours we lost on the road (we still love you Charlie!), despite the fact that we got rained on in ATL n then paid $15 for a cab to drive us 2 blocks, no one will ever be able to take away the fun we had, the information we learned, our experiences, and the friendships that were made.

January, Demetrius, Sade, Brendon, and Charles thank you soooo much for planning this trip! If I could go back and do my spring break all over I would sign up for the trip again in a heartbeat!

My History Lesson

First of all, to be honest, I don't really get excited about anything dealing with history. Not even my own (black history). As I write, I feel different. Not only did this trip allow me to meet some really grand people (inspirational and kind), it taught me a lesson. In Atlanta I did like a video blog and when I was done I kinda felt like it was forced or like I wasnt being true to myself. When we were in Alabama, I wanted to say something else. Something that I knew was from my heart. When we were downtown I called my mom and told her about my day and the museum we had went to. I remember looking into the eyes of an empty robe that once hide the face of a man that despised people like me. Honestly, it hurt. I was on the phone talking to my mom and i was telling her all the hate I seen or felt in just a picture or display. I was born in this era, this generation so Ive been accustomed to what I have and have been given. And because of that I take so much for granted, like many others. Things, rights that so many people fought for and struggled for. Anyways, the point is that this trip opened my eyes to reality. Reality about the past of people who wanted a better life for their children and also the reality I live in now. Although we as a people have come so far, there's so much more that has to be done so that everyone is seen as an Equal. This was more than a pilgrimage or an alternate spring break, it was an honest lesson about our history. A history that is rarely talked about in our schools..

As for the people that were on trip trip with me, I've gotten close to some of you all. Had moments with others. We shared the same experiences and although our reactions or emotions may have been different, we got to learn together. It was a chance to bond with people not like me. And because I did, Im glad I was on this trip. Through the amazing displays, personal stories and even the unpredictable weather, this is one experience I will never forget.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The day after... Rethinking our week.

First of, I must say that this past week has definitely served not only a life-changing experience in the way that I view the world, but has also brought me to look inwards to how I want to be in this world.

I remember the Reverend "Billy" Kyles making a reference to something so obvious yet so profound and easily forgotten. He spoke about the uniqueness of each and every one of us as individuals, and how special that is in relation to our responsibilities in contributing to our communities, societies and the world. This touched me because for me, it really defined civil rights and showed how struggle continues as long as we are social beings.

My impressions of the South prior to this trip had been of curiosity, confusion and a slight sense of harsh judgement. I had visited New Orleans, Memphis and Florida before but always maintained that those were the more "touristy" parts. The education that I received in the small town of Selma just through its demographics really showed me how the movement was elevated and empowered from all corners of the South. I really enjoyed visiting Selma and I think Joanne Bland is a remarkable individual, one of which I will forever feel blessed for having the opportunity of meeting.

On the other hand, I couldn't help but feel disappointed by the remnants and perpetual celebration of an old order. I had known from before that many Southerners hold onto a sense of pride in what is deemed a "lost cause", but I had never imagined that the trailing aspects of the "lost cause" by which they should be ashamed of now, would continue to openly bear such importance today. Visiting the site of the Confederate Circle was somewhat comprehensible to me as it paid tribute to peoples grandfathers and so forth in their effort to protect what they believed was right. However, to come into contact with a memorial for Nathan Bedford Forrest alongside the disturbing words that accompanied was a major shock and disappointment and a real eye-opener. We are so easily accustomed to putting the blame upon radical hate-groups, and we quickly denounce them as "crazies". I remember Rachel questioning whether there was a place in Germany where one could find a memorial celebrating Hitler? Seeing that memorial was a revelation to me. It showed me that on the surface, relations may seem better but the struggle to really understand each other continues.

This brings me to another point that I have learned from the trip. Joanne Bland told us the importance of communication and asking questions in order to understand one another. What again seems like a simple reminder, is something that is so significant. I believe that every person has the capacity to love and that every person desires to be loved (reminds me of a debate we had on the bus actually... wink wink Samuel!). I also believe that to denounce somebody as being evil is not good enough, and almost excuses their actions. From what I learned from the Little Rock experience, it was not only the students that were mean and perpetuating the oppression of the 9 black students, but it was an entire community with a specific belief system that they sought to protect. Is it therefore enough to say that the entire community was evil at that time? I don't think so. However much we may not be able to fully comprehend the thought of the time through our contemporary lens, I do strongly believe that what we can do now as a move towards reconciliation and a better understanding of each other, lie within what Joanne Bland highlighted; the importance of asking questions so we can do away with prejudice and stereotypes.

Meeting with Mary Louise Smith was so unimaginable to me. I still can't believe that I hugged a lady that had so much bravery and courage to defy an unjust system alone. I had never really been the person focus primarily on popular individuals as the sole catalysts in movements of change. I also looked to grassroot activists and protesters because I believe they were the ones that put the "move" in movement. Likewise, in Birmingham, AL, my friend and I spoke with a guy sat in the park who shared his story of being arrested multiple times during the 1963 protests and how he feels about the city now it has changed. Listening to personal stories really touched me, and it really brought the textbook to life for me. It gave an individual voice to the numbers that would usually accompany the voice of a leader in a textbook.

So to conclude, as I enter my last segment of my journey to and within the United States on my international study program, I can comfortably say that I am glad that I embarked upon the Civil Rights Pilgrimage. I found it both educational to the mind and heart. I never cried so many times in one week from so many different emotions. It was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I have come across some very special people that I hope to keep in my life as friends.

Thank you o January and the other creators of such an amazing opportunity, and thank you also to the U of I for giving this Brit such an enlightening experience! :)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Movie Blog 7

A busy couple of days

I started to blog last night, but half way into it it randomly erased and I was too tired to re-do it then. So, I am back at it tonight :). We leave at 5am tomorrow, so this will be a brief re-cap. Yesterday morning we had a tour at the Central High School Historic site. Our tour guide didn't think we would get into the actual school, but anyone who knows me knows that I don't really give up. We did make it inside the school to be able to stand in that historic spot and try to feel what those 9 brave high school students felt back in 1957. Our tour guide was excellent and did a great job of painting the picture in our minds of what they went through.

Our next stop was at the Clinton School for Public Service where 4 of the Master's students spoke to us about what they are doing to make the world a better place. Very inspiring. Most like there is a future Clinton school student in our group.

Then we headed to the Arkansas State Capitol. The highlight was checking out the Little Rock 9 statues.

Finally, we visited Heifer International. If you don't know what this is, go to www.heifer.org. They do incredible things to promote social justice and end poverty. I am not sure that all of our students were able to make that connection, but the ones that did got a lot out of this visit.

Today we had lunch at the famous Interstate Barbaque. I had very delicious BBQ nachos.

Then, we went to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. We toured the first building and then met with Rev. Billy Kyles who was with Dr. King when he was shot. Rev. Kyles told all of us to dream big dreams. He told us that dreamers are the ones who make big things happen. He had such a positive message given the fact that the main reason we wanted to see him was to have him tell the sad story of the end of Dr. King's life.

Overall, it has been and excellent last couple of days. I need to go to sleep so I make it out to the bus at 5am.

Day Seven Video Blog

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A few things

This trip has been really awesome. Everyone is so nice and I am happy to have made so many new friends. Tuesday and Wednesday were the best days of this trip so far. The Rosa Parks Museum had a really cool bus display. Our tour of the capital was with an interesting older gentleman. I especially enjoyed laying down on the floor to look at the ceiling...

One of the biggest highlights was the SCLC. We had to go through a metal detector because the KKK has tried to bomb the place before. The Civil Rights Monument was powerful. It was surreal to touch the place Rosa Parks had once touched. It made me sad to see so many people lost their lives because of the cause.

Speaking with Mary Louis Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Graetz and the other civil rights activists was definitely the biggest highlight. I wish we could have spent more time with them. I deeply appreciate that they would take the time out of their lives just to come talk to us.

Joanne Bland was pretty cool, and marching over the Edmond Pettus Bridge was moving. Several people honked and waved. You can just feel the history of that place. I think it was cool Obama marched there too.

The Bill Clinton library today was pretty interesting. I especially liked the Mickey Mantle rookie card that he received as a gift. I'm sure that's worth a ton of money.

I can't right now but I'll come back and put up pictures once I get home.

Day 4: Selma and Birmingham

You know....you know...a day late....

Today we woke up early to depart from Montgomery. In planning, I can honestly say that this was one of the days I was looking forward to the most because of all of the positive things I've heard about Joanne Bland. Joanne Bland is the co-founder and director of the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute in Selma, Alabama. As a child, she marched in "Bloody Sunday," and has been involved with Civil Rights ever since.

As we traveled from Montgomery to Selma, I had several thoughts running through my head: Where did they walk? In the grass? On the street? Which side of the street? How many people were with them? How long did the march take? What was discussed in the camps along the way. I followed the "historic route markers" along the freeway all the way to Selma. As we approached the Edmund Pettus Bridge, I thought about my own family. At my family reunion a couple years back, we marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the march. Unfortunately, I was not at that family reunion due to being in grad school and my assistantship obligations. I thought about how moving it would have been to walk across with my family, signifying a sense of strength through unity.

Due to serving as one of the co-advisors of the Civil Rights Pilgrimage, I sit at the very front of the bus. Within minutes of Ms. Joanne getting on the bus, she had already made several jokes about our driver, called me her "boo." It was then that I knew that today was going to be a very FUNUCATIAONAL (homeade word for fun and educational) day. Ms. Joanne's quick wit and personality could be described as a "big momma," or even a real life version of "mabel simmons, also known as Madea." She has a lot to say, speaks the truth, and will say what is on her mind. In doing so, if she hurts your feelings, is unapologetic, as she distributed her FRANKNESS and CANDOR evenly amongst all people on the bus (from Advisor- Me, to bus driver- Charly.Furthermore, Ms. Joanne had a very charismatic method of delivering her personal stories and information about Selma, and the Civil Rights Movement. Ms. Jonanne's keep it real personality was a bit much for some of the students to handle, as she made them uncomfortable. I challenged them to get past how she was acting and to think about what she was saying. I tried to explain that it was just her personality. I would have loved to continue having these conversations, but I had to keep it quick, due to respect...and to ensure the joke stayed off of me! I would have loved to elaborate on why the students felt that way and to probe them to reflect on why she is the way she is. I hadn't put much thought into it, but as I began to write this blog it hit me. Ms. Joanne lived during a period where most blacks were afraid for their lives! She actually saw "BLOOD" on Bloody Sunday! She's been arrested, as early as 8 years old! Through each of these events, Ms. Joanne demonstrated a sense of courage in persevering though these awful events. I think it is unrealistic to as someone who was brave as she is to utilize a "filter!" It's just not her.

Our tour with her started in a riding tour of Selma. We saw the home of family friends of Dr. King (the place with he stayed when he visited Selma), the AME church that SNCC held meetings, the place that everyone congregated before heading down to the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, cemetery where some Confederate solders are buried, and the "black" and "white" side of campus. Ms. Joanne also talked about how during the Jim Crow period, there were two of everything, one for blacks and one for whites. This was observed on the tour. This was most notable with the fact that Blacks and Whites could not enter a building through the same door. As a result there were many buildings had two entrances. In most cases the white entrance was usually very nice, while the black entrance was often dilapidated and at an inconvenient location (back of the building). I saw the remnants of this with my own eyes during the tour. There was one building that was unique. There was a church that had two IDENTICAL entrances. One on the front of the building for whites, and one on the side of the building for blacks. Seeing this really brought Jim Crow to life for me. THIS WAS HOW PEOPLE LIVED and didn't have a choice!!!

Our tour also included us walking across the Edmund bge. Before getting off of the bus to prepare for our march across the bridge, Ms. Joanne shared a very emotional account of what happened on Bloody Sunday. It was a very moving story, and Ms. Joanne even broke down. It did fell a little different to see such a strong woman choke up and cry, but again only signified how important this day was to her existence, and that while she may be a very strong woman, she is also still human. Ms. Joanne mentioned how talking about her experiences were good for her, as it served as a form of therapy for her. After setting up the scene and having a couple tears roll down the side of my cheek, it was time for us to get off of the bus. Ms. Joanne did not go, because as she stated, "had already done it for us, and this time was for us to do it for her!" While this was a "symbolic" march, it was not very difficult for me to put it into perspective! We took at stand for a right that we strongly believed it. Knowing all that happened during this time period, I can honestly say that what we did was by far much easier to do. There was not a threat of getting shot or arrested by a police officer, mulled by a German Shepard, or attacked by angry mobs.

After we walked across the bridge, we concluded by attending the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute. It was here were we saw more artifacts that went into the fight for voting rights. There were several sections of the museum: a time line of black history events, women's history, being in jail, early politicians during the reconstruction phase, and President Obama, just to name a few. During an earlier phase of our tour with Ms. Joanne, she mentioned how when they went to jail, they'd often put up to 40 people in a cell. To enact what this felt like a student thought it would be a good idea to for us to ALL get in the cell and take a picture. This was a little difficult for some students who were in processing mode after all that we had done so far. One student became visibly shaken up because they felt other students were not taking the experience seriously. I followed the student outside and we processed about what was going on. I told the student that this experience is about them, and to not let others take away from it. If we're doing something and they need to vent or release, just to step away or go outside, calm down, and then return.

We then went to lunch at a Soul Food Restaurant where I WAS FINALLY ABLE TO EAT SOME PEACH COBBLER!!!!!!!!!!! and whew....it was dabomb.com!

After lunch we headed to Birmingham, where we attended the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. As a younger person, I had visited this place before. It felt different going back this time around. There was an addition to the museum this time, but it was more than that. I had a different perspective to view the museum. While here, I spoke with a student about the state of the black and what that meant at a predominately white institution. We both shared our experiences and ended up talking for nearly 45 minutes as we walked on throughout the exhibits. Our talking spawned out to include: The Black Family, activism now, what it means to be black, and interracial relationships. I was also approached by another student who wanted to have a discussion about what he was feeling with other students.

I did get a pleasant surprise. One of my cousins from Birmingham surprised me at the museum. Thanks Cousin Gene! It was good seeing you!

After leaving the museum, I went over to 16th Avenue Church to see where the Four Little Girls had attended church, followed by Kelly Ingram Park. At Kelly Ingram Park, I saw a new friend, Muni, who was also in Birmingham with her students during Spring Break. It's such a small world.

Day Four: Selma

Today was intense. We had to be on the bus at 6:45 in the morning for the trip from Montgomery to Selma, Alabama. Selma’s history and current social state is overwhelming. Our tour guide Miss Joanne Bland was and to this very day is a freedom fighter. That decision was made for her when she was 8 yrs old…and was arrested for the first time. By the time she was 11 yrs of age she had been arrested 13 times and had given more to the battle for justice than most people (particularly the generations following the civil rights movements that enjoy such freedom people died for so inauspiciously) will their entire lives. She is walking history and I can’t help but think to give a big shout out to my guys Manuel Colon, Enrique Guerrero and Octavio Patino (including a lot more fellow University of Illinois students) that are making their own history and strives to equity by marching on Washington, D.C. for immigration reform. Now back to Miss bland, this woman was great and could tell first hand stories of the brutality African Americans faced when they organized in Selma wanting to march 54 miles to Montgomery. She shared her terrifying stories of beatings that brought tears to my eyes. This woman is truly remarkable. Aside from her personal experience she was holistically knowledgeable of Selma’s history. We paid a visit to the cemetery and to my horror found ourselves face to face with a 40 ft. monument to Robert E. Lee and a not-so-modest-bust in honor of ‘the defender of Selma” Nathan Bedford Forrest, a founding father of the Ku Klux Klan (who in one Civil War battle buried African Americans alive). I swear had I the means those two shrines to violent white supremacy would have come down, that’s how emotional I was. We then had the great honor to march the same march activists took over the Selma bridge and walk in the footsteps of the brave souls (who face firehouses, police dogs and police violence) before us. Today made me angry but it further incensed me and imbued the fact that the struggle must continue and the dream has yet to be realized…

Day 4: Selma and Birmingham, AL

We visited a really historic church where the march from Selma to Birmingham started. It was this church where protesters gathered to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday. The Curator, Mrs. Joanne, was a pretty interesting person. She had walked the lines on Bloody Sunday and protested police brutality. 

The two monuments in front of the church.

We also visited a cemetery... randomly

The group in front of the Edmund Pettus Bridge

After leaving Selma we drove for an hour to Birmingham Alabama. We visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute which was the most amazing museum I've seen on the trip so far. The museum was very well done and had a lot of interesting information. I really enjoyed the several timelines they had which followed the events in the civil rights movement and events around the US. It was really interesting to see how key events around the world and the US had intertwined with the American Civil Rights Movement.

After a whole day on the bus and in museums, the group felt a little restless. We all got out of the bus to do the electric shuffle. 

Day 3: Montgomery, AL

Yes! We arrived in Montgomery Alabama!!

We went into the Rosa Parks museum! It was so cool! They had movies, interactive stations, and very interesting documents from the Civil Rights Movements. One thing that really captured my attention was a big poster of MLK in front of his home right after it got bombed by the KKK(?). There was an angry mob gathered in front of his home ready to raise hell.... MLK told the crowd to go home and that violence was not the answer. Can you imagine what a heavy heart he must have had telling the crowd to go home when just witnessed his family almost get killed?

Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures inside the museum. I wish I could have taken a picture of one thing in the museum; MLK at night when he was having second thoughts about the civil rights movement. MLK had received a letter containing a bomb threat on his home. The scene showed MLK drinking coffee in the kitchen alone as he was thinking about his wife and children. He was worried about his family and if the time was right for the movement. He prayed a very powerful prayer that asked God if what he was doing was right. I don't remember the exact words of MLK, but his prayer really moved me.

In front of the movie theater where Rosa Parks was arrested. 

Photography is very shocking stuff.

After visiting the Rosa Parks Museum, we walked to the state capitol building. This day was a bit warmer, around 65 degrees.

The beautiful ceiling of the Alabama State Capitol Building.

In front of the Civil Rights Memorial at the Southern Poverty Law Center. There was a wall in front of the building with a famous quote by Martin Luther King Jr.

April 4th, 1968 - Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated. 

A student touching the wall

Day 2: Martin Luther King Jr. Museum and Tuskegee University

We left our hotel at 8am. 

At the Martin Luther King Jr. Museum we read about the civil rights movement. There were several walls like the one pictured above that had very captivating pictures and descriptions about the struggle for equality.

I found it amazing that they had the actual carriage that held the late Martin Luther King Jr. in his funeral. The carriage was pulled by two horses and it reflected MLK's humble beginnings and how he tried to bring everyone out of poverty.

The quote really got me thinking. Its so amazing how the most deeply embedded segregation laws were changed by a nonviolent movement modeled after Gandhi.

We visited the birth home of Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta, GA.

In Tuskegee, AL we went to the Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center. It was a small museum that had some videos and a really detailed history of Alabama. I read about some really interesting things like the Tuskegee Syphilis study.

We later visited Tuskegee University. Unfortunately we missed the guided tour because of some complications. The campus was surprisingly large considering that the school has only 5,000 students. As you can see the weather was pretty gloomy. It was actually really cold in Alabama when we were in Tuskegee.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Today we took a bus tour around Selma and learned a lot from Joanne who witnessed the Civil Rights marches in the town firsthand. My peers and I had the opportunity to walk across the same bridge that marchers experienced force and violence from the police who met them with tear gas. It was surreal thinking about the pain that those marchers went through on that very bridge all those years ago. After a very filling meal we left Selma to go to Birmingham. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute was my favorite exhibit on this trip so far. It has excellent visuals and documents. I'm happy that the weather was nice and warm again today. I hope that the weather is nice in Little Rock tomorrow. I also hope to get adequate sleep on the bus ride tomorrow morning. More updates to come!

Beautiful Selma, AL

After a sleep-filled bus ride to a beautiful morning in Selma, Joanne Bland got on our bus to begin a life-changing tour. She educated us about the civil rights history that she had been a part of. What I remember most is right before we marched across the Edmond Pettus Bridge, Bland told us the story of Bloody Sunday. As I walked across the bridge, I remembered all the determined marchers and their cause. Bland said "we aren't where we need to be, "and I completely agree. Bland made me realize that WE are responsible to continue their dreams for our children and our children's children.

The struggle continues...

My recent interest in everything about social justice inspired to me to go on this trip. I wanted to visit the historic monuments and sites that I read about so frequently in history classes. I'm not even sure I could even put into words what I feel about my experience. This civil rights pilgrimage has truly surpassed my expectations. I've taken tours of Martin Luther King's birth home, the Rosa Parks museum, the southern poverty law center and many others. Unbelievably I've walked across the Edmund Pettus bridge today. I've had dinner with women who were apart of history. I truly believe this an experience, I will remember for a lifetime.

More importantly, I have been inspired beyond measure. I want to attend law school and study public interests law. Before this trip I knew how important lawyers could be in the struggle for social justice. During this trip especially the visit to the aforementioned southern poverty law center, I've realized how lawyers are more of a crucial component than I even realized. Joanne Bland's tour reaffirmed my belief that an united group could make a dramatic change and there is something we all can do. So, even if I never make it to law school, I can still find a way to make a change in this world. While I do believe progress has been made, I know there is still a long road to travel. It would be a grave injustice to those who became before me to sit around and do nothing while the 'dream' has yet to be realized.

Day 3

Once again, this post is on Day 4, but written about Day 3!

For everyday that is added to the Pilgrimage, the experiences become better and better! Today was a day filled with courage, a little bit of anger, diligence, and hope.

COURAGE: Our day started at the Rosa Parks Library and Museum. This was my first time attending this museum, as well as Troy State University. The museum was filled with a plethora of information about Rosa Parks and the role that she played in the Civil Rights Movement. While, I've known about Rosa Parks since PRE-SCHOOL, I can attest that I still learned something new at the museum. The thing that I appreciated most was the way that the museum demonstrated how the "organization" aspect of the bus boycott came to life. Many people collaborated to make sure that things got done. The way that they were able to spread the word of the boycott, and organize a back up plan (carpooling) demonstrated that advocates of the bus boycott and civil rights movement were about BUSINESS!!! I feel as though in our current times, we (on average, not every single person) sit back, complain, do nothing and expect our politicians to solve our problems. During the Civil Rights, the "PEOPLE" were the ones to light the match to spark the politicians, and not the other way around.

ANGER: The next part of our trip had us visiting the Alabama State Capitol Building. Let me start by saying that the state buildings downtown were very alluring. Downtown looked like a campus of state administrative buildings. The architecture of the buildings were similar. The exterior of each building was white. There was plenty of greenery across each manicured lawn. There were many trees (some of which so large, that they looked like they were HUNDREDS of years old) meticulously arranged around each building. Finally, the landscaping included purple, and yellow flowers which could be found adjacent to the sidewalks and around each of the huge beautiful buildings. It almost felt as though it was the same exact way it was one hundred years ago! All we would have had to do is replace the concrete street with bricks, replace the cars with horses, place men in suits, women in petticoats, and erase all of the black people I saw.

The tour of the Alabama State Capitol was interesting. There was a little, older man with a southern draw who acted as our tour guide. He had several jokes and attempted to really make his tour "colorful" with his unique sense of humor. We saw a lot of things within the Capitol and followed instructions of all things we were asked to do along the way (for example, sit on the floor to look up to see all of the art decor).

After the tour we broke up into small groups to process about the day over lunch. My group had a really good time. We discussed several things, but here are a few of our hot topics. We talked about the use of the word "Nigger," and our reactions to it. Most said that they would not have a reaction to hearing the word due to being desensitized. We also spoke about the term "Yankee," as our tour guide referred to us as "Yankees" a couple times throughout the tour. We discussed the tour and how it was. This part of the conversation lead to a very engaging dialogue about the tour. Some felt as if the tour of the Capitol was a waste of time because they didn't see how it connected to Civil Rights. Others discussed how they were able to see the connection. The good thing about our group is that I got us started, but the students were able to step up and prob questions to the group. As an advisor this was a very REWARDING experience to see them step up and take charge of their learning.

I mentioned that the day was filled with courage, anger, and hope. This section is about anger because it stirred up some strong emotions by not only myself but my students as well. Personally, I was not exactly happy with the tour. Throughout our ENTIRE TOUR our tour guide consistently used the following terms: "issues of the past, " "bad place," and "horrible things going on," while NEVER TAKING ANYTIME to speak about those things. It was almost as if he was not permitted to mention race, slavery, or oppression. He went out of the way to be sure to omit it, but if someone didn't know, they would not have been taught during his tour. I also had an interesting conversation with a student. Our tour was not the only one taking place this day. During our tour, our tour guide mentioned that the spiral steps on the inside were designed and created by a slave. He did claim that they couldn't find any "proof," but that it was probably the case. One of my students said that he overheard another tour with all white kids who were appeared to be in about the 3rd grade or so. During that tour the guide promoted the fact a totally different way. She said it to invalidate anything they may have heard about the possibility of a slave designing and building the steps. This angered the student, and we talked about why this may have been the case.

Diligence: The next phase of our day took us to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). This is a MUST SEE for anyone who ever visits Montgomery, AL. The SPLC has done a lot of work to assist those who have been victims of oppression, and hate crimes. Before entering the building we had to endure extensive security. With a group of 43, you can image how the line was out the door as we checked in. However, the SPLC Staff is very efficient and the line moved expeditiously. While standing at the back of the line, I was talking with a student who was addressing his concern about why we have to endure so much just to get inside. As soon as we entered the building they had a sign educatingg customers about the reason for the through security. I learned that there was a bomb which was set before, as well as numerous bomb and death threats to individuals who work at the SPLC! These bad things have not stopped them from being passionate about the work they do. The center was built for 40 individuals who were victims of hate crimes. Furthermore, the SPLC also incorporates some of their Civil Rights Memorial to forgotten voices (be it those who are still missing, or cases which never received national recognition). One of the memories I'll take away from the SPLC is a picture they had on the mural that contained a Native American woman wearing a sign that said "I'm not a Mascot!" This is salient for me, because at the University of Illinois, because our "Chief" debate continues to divide campus even though the "Chief" is no longer our mascot. I was able to explain how this may be offensive to others. While at the SPLC I had another engaging conversation with a student about civil rights. They did not know how they personally fit into the movement. With the student, we were able to connect the dots to allow them to see that they do fit into the Civil Rights Movement. TheSPLC has worked diligently for the advancement of Social Justice, and while we've come a long way, there is still work to do!

Hope: Following the SPLC we went to Dexter Ave. King Memorial Baptist Church. It is there that we sat in the same basement that many prominent figures sat organizing various things for the Civil Rights Movement. This is also the only church that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. served as Senior Pastor. It is here that I stood in the pulpit of the Dexter Ave. King Memorial Baptist Church. While I took a picture, I look very awkward in the picture. This is because I was overcome with emotions. I did not know if I wanted to laugh or cry, so my picture came out with me looking very nervous. I meant so much, and was very powerful knowing that I was literally standing in the same spot as Dr. King. I was surprised how large the church looked inside. All of the pictures that I've seen did not serve the the church justice in reference to it's true size. Leaving the pulpit I really felt a sense of hope just knowing that there is still that I can do in the fight for equity and social justice for all individuals.

Our night ended with speaking with several people who were involved in the Civil Rights Movement including Ella Bell, Mary Louise Smith Ware, Rev. Bob and Jeannie Graetz, and an unidentified woman (I couldn't catch her name). This was probably the best part of the day for me. It was very comforting "sitting on their coat tails" listening to their stories. I was more than reading something in a text book, more than seeing a video on TV, because they were actually speaking to us! This evening served as another humbling experience for me. What I enjoyed the best about today was hearing about Mary Louise Smith Ware's story. In the movie "Barbershop" there is a scene in which Cedric the Entertainer's character sparks a barbershop debate when he says that Rosa Parks was not the only woman to not give up her seat in AL. This was actually very factual, as Mary Louise Smith Ware did it earlier in the same year as Mrs. Parks. If you don't believe me....GOOGLE HER! Mary Louise Smith Ware explained her story very gracefully while speaking about HER experiences and not focusing on the experiences of others. Many times we can get caught up in what other people are doing, but her story taught me the importance of focusing on yourself. She was not envious or jealous over all of the notoriety that Mrs. Park received, as she understands she played an intrinsic role of the Civil Rights Movement. The hope that she demonstrated during this difficult time and "drama" proved as an example for me to stand in times of the storm. Furthermore, Mary Louise Smith Ware was one of the plaintiffs in the Browder vs. Gale Case. Mary's testimony helped to end segregation in public places. I have really enjoyed learning about all of the forgotten and unheard stories of the Civil Rights Movement.



We are back in the hotel and I am watching CNN and they are talking about people promoting throwing bricks through the office buildings and homes of democratic congresspeople. This hurts my heart after the day we had today. We started out in Selma spending the morning with Joanne Bland who gave us a tour of the places important in the movement as well telling her story of risking her life in the Selma to Montgomery march.

Then this afternoon, we went to Birmingham to tour the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. At this museum we were able to learn more about many of the places we already visited as well as a whole lot about the bombings and protests in Birmingham, specifically the bombing of 16th Street Baptist where 4 little girls were killed.

After touring the museum, a group of us went and sat on the steps of the church and discussed our thoughts on what we have learned so far and what we can do to continue the movement in our own ways. Someone inside the church saw our small group and invited us in to tour the church. My heart had that uneasy feeling that comes with knowing you are someplace something very awful has happened. We were able to see some of the orginal items including the clock that stopped at 10:22, the moment the bomb went off.

This day was very inspiring and I am so excited to know that the students on this trip are getting ready to find their own way to make the world a better and more fair place. I have no doubt that they will work to stop the hate that is still alive and well here in the USA.

Day Three

Ok so today was packed with alot of info and was overall a great experience. We got to visit the Rosa Parks museum which gave everyone a chance to see a reenactment of the activist's infamous arrest that incited the Montgomery Bus Boycott then it was on to state capitol building.

Now that tour brought up alot of discussion within itself. I stood in the very same spot the Confedracy was founded and felt as though I saw the face of oppression. There were these murals depicting slaves SMILING...come on now. That wasn't even brought up by te tour guide when he talked about them (shakes head). Albeit the history of the building was rich and the architecture beautiful but the context was just not there, I mean this is where a struggle for civil rights begins (seeing as how activists had to fight something) and we never discussed how messed up it was.

Next we stopped by the Civil Rights memorial at the SPLC, this was a great overview of forgotten cases and faces of the civil rights struggle. Our guide was really knowledgeable and jer insight was greatly appreciated. After that we made our way to Dr. King's Church and saw where the man himself preached week in week out to no avail.

But the BEST part of the day was saved for last. We got to eat dinner with civil rights movement history themselves. I finally got to hear a perspective from white activists (who gave up their social status to help African Ameicans gain theirs).

Over all a great day and I left so much out :( I apologize for the horrible blog...I'm new to all this. bear with me

bed time, gotta be on the bus in 5 hours...

Day Three Video Blog Edit

Part One

Part Two

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Day 3- Montgomery, AL

I have truly enjoyed this journey of exploration into the radical and foundational time period of the civil rights movement. Today, I embarked on a quest for the proper understanding of the impact that Montgomery, Alabama played in this revolutionary era. This included a tour of the Rosa Parks museum and gift shop, the old Alabama State Capitol Building, the Civil Rights Memorial Center, the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, and finally our evening ended with a talk and dinner with several participants from the Civil Rights movement, including one of the few White pastors that consulted with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I was truly inspired by the Civil Rights Memorial which stirred desires of social belonging. From the time I entered the complex I felt a connection with the revolutionaries of the past and began to search for my own ability to create a memorable existence that would in future generations be remembered as remarkable and defining. I was encouraged to seek a future that is worthy of remembering and respect and plan to use all resources available to myself because of the efforts of those who have come before me.

Day 1: Downtown Atlanta (Underground and dinner)

We went to downtown Atlanta to visit the "Atlanta Underground". Unfortunately the underground was about to close when we arrived there. We all decided to walk around and explore the city and find a different place to eat dinner. 

Victor Hong walking the streets of Atlanta

The entrance to the Atlanta Underground

After we briefly visited the Atlanta Underground, some of us decided to go to the capitol building. Unfortunately the capitol building was closed but we had a blast walking around the city in the rain.

We decided to eat dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. The food was amazing! I ordered the Red White and blue Burger. It was pretty expensive ($18) but definitely worth the money. I had mine medium-rare with buffalo sauce.