Before I elect to put in words the emotions, sights and smells of the week I spent during the Civil Rights Pilgrimage, you shan't be spared from a brief introduction. :D My name is Victor Hong and I am an international student from Malaysia who is pursuing his studies here at the University of Illinois. I have had a hellish semester thus far, and upon hearing that the University Housing was organizing a trip to the South, I seized the opportunity on what i thought would be a perfect escapade to revitalize from the arduous academics. At that point of time it did not quite matter to me regarding the theme of the trip; I just wanted my well deserved rest and an opportunity to travel to the Southern States.
I got a little more than I bargained for.
Before arriving in the States, I have had a decent exposure to the historical background of this great country. However, after listening to the accounts of people from the Civil Rights Movement back in the 50's and 60's, it was very evident, that the sources in which I had used to learn about American History, was falling short in its actual depiction. The racial bigotry and hipocrisy that existed for centuries was seldom mentioned in the books I read, hardly highlighted at all. To my horror, it seemed that racism could drive people to perform incredibly inhumane, heinous and unbelievable travesties in the past. How is it possible, that the mere difference in skin tone, could drive man to perform such acts of reckless hate?
However, not all in the trip was doom and gloom. Despite the extreme circumstances and oppression that beset the African American population during times of racism and segregation, notable figures rose to fight against this system. Dr. Martin Luther King was quite a central figure throughout our entire trip. Yes, I assume you would associate Dr. King with civil disobedience and you most probably have heard of his speech "I Have A Dream".
Though his speeches exemplified nerves of steel and an indomitable will to convince his supporters to triumph over their adversities, Dr. King was quite uniquely different when he was not speaking into the microphone addressing thousands of people. When I spoke to Reverend Kyles (he was with Dr. King when Dr. King was shot at the Loraine Motel in Tennessee), Dr. King was no different than you and I as a person. He lived in constant fear for his own life as well as that of his family's. He had his own personal issues to be worried about, and to bring more burden to his shoulders, he had the weight of the pressure of his followers who were hoping his efforts would bring them a better future. Yet despite the atrocities that were oppressing his people and the immense pressure on his life, Dr. King never incited his followers to commit acts of violence to achieve equality. He could have blamed the defunct laws of segregation that beset his people and choose the easy way out by using physical violence to force matters. Instead, he chose not to be a victim of his circumstance but by becoming the master of his own fate by not letting the extreme circumstances around him dictate his actions and utilizing his influence and democracy to effect a change within society.
Initially this was a trip that was intended for me to go sight-seeing and to recharge my batteries.
At the end of the trip, I came back more exhausted than I had before I left for the trip. I did not get to see much sight-seeing (January please dont kill me!), but I did strengthen my moral fiber, made wonderful friends and have now traveled to more States than my American roommate. (my roommate is just embarrassed of the fact that I have seen more of America than he has despite him being an American citizen)
I hope you enjoyed reading this. The trip had a very profound effect on me and I would highly encourage you to get on this trip if you can! It's truly an experience like no other.