Day 2 – Civil Rights Tour of the South
First thing; don’t get used to all of these posts! Once I get into the swing of things this school year, my goal is to write 2-3 posts a week, not once a day. This is such a rich trip that I think every day needs to be documented, but it has been intense, and I don’t want to sacrifice quality for quantity as I embark on this endeavor.
I’m going to continue today with another quote from someone we’ve met on our trip. The quote above, “what do I have to lose?” comes from our tour guide, Ms. Minnie, at the Medgar Evers home in Jackson, MS. It was a quote that struck a chord with many of our students on this trip, as it came up multiple times in our nightly breakdown discussion. However, before we get to the end of the night, we have to review our tumultuous start.
We had an early wakeup call for the second day in a row. The bus needed to pull out at 7 a.m., so after a quick breakfast (although some students preferred to have sleep for breakfast) we got on the bus, only to go about 1 foot before something started leaking. Fast forward to 3 hours later, when a backup bus arrives and we can finally make our three and half hour jaunt to Jackson.
Already behind and having to have reschedule our tour time, we gathered into the living room of Medgar Evers (never thought I’d write that line). We got a brief history of Evers from Ms. Minnie, including some horrifying tidbits. Evers knew he was a target, so he had some safety features built into his house. He did not have a front door, but instead entered the house out of the passenger seat and through the door in the carport. He also had the windows raised higher than normal, so that his family could stay safer and be able to get low to the ground in case people tried to shoot through the windows.
The house was haunting, including the fact that you can actually see the bullet hole in the house. While explaining the story, Ms. Minnie told us that much of what happened in the civil rights struggle was done because people felt like they had no other choice but to try to create change. She put us into the shoes of civil rights leaders; “What do I have to lose? It’s not your life anyway, you don’t own your own body.” This was striking, and not just to me, as multiple students reflected about this statement at night.
Since we had the bus issues, we missed an opportunity to go to the 2 Mississippi Museums, but instead took a driving tour to the campus Jackson State University, which was where Evers’ NAACP office was located. We ate some excellent soul food, and then made it back for our discussion at night.
Here are some assorted thoughts from the discussion, both from our tour leader Charles Alphin, a non-violence trainer, and our staff and students (By the way, I’m just going to use some anonymity for our students for now. As I navigate through this, I’m going to figure out a system for getting parental consent before mentioning any students by name).
Charles Alphin on some general ideas for our student leaders to pass along:
“There is a myth that the civil rights movement was a black issue. It was a people issue.” – We are a diverse group on this trip, and this quote seemed to really connect to a lot of our kids. Not only does he speak about race like this, but also religion. Alphin keeps reminding us that while spirituality is at the heart of the movement, it is not exclusive to any one religion, and that even atheists are involved in the movement. In today’s world, with human rights issues that include race, but also go beyond, it seemed like an invitation that all are welcome who want to create a humane world.
“Psychological violence is the most dangerous form. Your tongue is the most dangerous weapon on your body.” – This is a very important idea for young leaders to hear. Alphin talks a lot about how important putting an end to gossip can be a deterrent for other issues that pop up amongst teenagers.
“Don’t let people rent space in your mind.” – Pretty self explanatory, but a great message for young people to hear.
Insights from our students at the halfway mark of our trip:
The children’s movement stirred our students – Learning about the children’s movement in Birmingham on day 1 seemed to resonate with our students. The idea of children walking out of school, knowing that they might get arrested and feeling like it was up to them because their parents could not do so for fear of losing their jobs gave them the idea that their voice is valid and can be powerful.
Students and teachers were amazed by the amount of faith that these people showed during times which must have seemed impossible.
One of our students was struck by a quote from Dr. Bernard Lafayette the night before, “turn confrontation into cooperation.”
There were also many responses about the reality of some of the things we are seeing, like the actual church that was bombed and the bullet hole in Medgar Evers house. They also are saying that they are learning much more about history by seeing these things up close than they feel like they could ever learn in a classroom.
Although the day started with a classic hurry and and wait situation, it was one filled with powerful images and poignant discussions. I’m looking forward to day 3.