The South and Me by Trichia Bravi

 

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Trichia Bravi (on left) and her classmates

Ecstasy is the best way of describing my feeling when I signed up for this class. Before entering college, I seldom traveled, and this class was the best opportunity to travel.As a northerner, I never envisioned enrolling in a southern university, let alone going on a nine-day road trip through the Deep South. However, I have always been open to new experiences that put me outside of my comfort zone. As a result, I can say the South has had its effect on me, as my mom points out whenever I say “ma’am” or “y’all.”

I cannot imagine a better way to be introduced to the Deep South than through this journey. Prior to the class, I did not know there were nearly as many museums dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement. I can say without a doubt that I had strong emotional responses at every stop. I could not stop thinking about my family. My sister is biracial, and it terrifies me that the community might have persecuted her as well as her father, and our mother. We would have lived in fear, and it makes me realize that people still live in fear and there are still many hateful people in the world.

However, I also realized that there were so many sympathetic people of every race. During the Freedom Rides, people came from all over the country (and other countries) to risk their lives on buses for the simple right of integrated travel. One of the most heartwarming and surprising facts that I learned was about the 12-year-old girl in Anniston, Alabama who brought water out to the freedom riders as they were choking on smoke. This girl, whose father was complicit in the bus bombing, knew that people needed help and put race aside in order to do what needed.

I wish I could say that I understand why people had such an issue with integration; it does not make sense to me. I know that people were afraid of miscegenation and white women losing their “racial purity,” but sitting next to a black man in school or on the bus does not automatically result in pregnancy. I did learn, however, that I do not need to understand why people have those opinions and perspectives. Rather, it is my job to stop injustices when I see them and to try to change hearts and minds. After all, I did make a pledge and I intend to keep that pledge.

Freedom Riders by Marquita Dunn

 

   Our class read Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice by historian Raymond Arsenault. The book focuses on the daily challenges that freedom riders faced. It also describes the Greensboro sit-in demonstrations that North Carolina A&T College students organized, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church and other facets of the Civil Rights Movement. It inspired me to use my imagination to picture the scenes of violent mobs, non-violent riders, and I asked myself if I could have endured this kind of treatment?

The documentary brought the book to life. To put faces with names and made it more poignant. When you hear the interviews with the participants, you hear the determination to carry on, you see the fear on their faces. The decision to send reporters on the rides was a huge turning point for the movement. Reporters filmed violence and the news broadcast reached people across the world who otherwise would not have known about it. As people saw the violence the Freedom Riders endured, the consciences of many prompted telephone calls to their Congressmen. It all became a moral issue, and more people from all walks of life, all colors, and nationalities decided to join in the fight for equal rights for all. Why should we let this happen to our fellow man; what can we as a people do?

Diane Nash was a young brave college student who led the Freedom Riders, and she refused to back down. As groups of riders were arrested and jailed, more groups stepped in and persevered. To listen to them describe the experiences they encountered was frightening. Being beaten within an inch of their lives, scenes with the dogs attacking children, high pressure fire hoses turned on women and children was more than I could bear to watch. It was frightening and I wondered if I would have been as brave?

The Fight is Not Over by Jamaal Jones

This trip and course through The South taught me many things and if anything it taught me that there is still much that needs to be done. I think the most important thing to realize is that the law can only do so much in these kinds of situations. A discussion that will stick with me for a long time is one had on our last Monday. The discussion centered around the successes and failures of The Civil Rights Movements and the effectiveness of the Freedom Rides. Everything that occurred from the death of Emmitt Till in 1955 to the passing of The Civil Rights Movement in 1964 to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 were tremendous steps forward in a fight that will hopefully not be continued much longer.

It is clear that what remains is not a policy problem but rather a societal problem. When in Selma it became very clear to me that there was still a problem, the public school, where the black children attended, was being taken over by the state while the the private school, which according to a local source was where all the white children went, was doing fine. There was still segregation within the neighborhoods, where blacks lived in the projects and parts of town which were falling apart while the white towns people lived in much nicer homes out of view of the town. The dividing line being the road that led to the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

A short while later while watching video on the Chicago housing marches we discussed how segregation was not simply a Southern Problem. Segregation was an everywhere problem but the heat was brought to the South because of their extreme reactions to some of the new laws passed. History seemed to be told by the North about the horrible South and their backwards ways when in fact one of the biggest sprawling cities in the North was treating black citizens just as bad as Southerners were treating black citizens. It hit me immediately, racism and segregation was not ended by the Civil Rights Movement or the passing of The Civil Rights Act, it was only made illegal. But of course there were always loopholes and Chicago found them and so did many other states. Disparate Impact claims (Policy that is discriminatory based on a disproportionate adverse affect on a population based on race, sex, religion or familial status where there is no legitimate reason for discrimination) are still being filed and people are still being segregated and systematically oppressed but through legal loopholes.

The discussion had on our last Monday simply made it very clear that so much has been accomplished but to stop when the law is passed simply does not get the job done. It is the last few steps that will truly make a difference and make the policies that were put into place in the 1960’s actually mean that segregation in America is done away with. There has been too much effort by young men and women to grow complacent in how far we have come when there is still so much further to go.

Freedom Riders – The Deeper Meaning in Documentary Film by Jamaal Jones

Over the length of our course we read Raymond Arsenault’s Freedom Riders and followed the course of the Freedom Riders through the South, although our class focused on only hot spots of the movement rather than the actual route of the Freedom Rides. However, one of the most interesting portions of the course was watching the documentary film companion to Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice.

Though the merit of documentary film is debatable, this one is far more descriptive than the text of a book or descriptions in a lecture. The Freedom Rides were an incredibly emotional, tense, and turbulent period of the Civil Rights Movement. The youth of the 1960’s were extremely brave, and I never quite understood how these bus rides made such a huge impact until watching this film and truly understanding what these young people experienced.

Students about my age risked their lives for civil rights that I take for granted every day. I do not think twice before using a public facility or being able to vote for my local and national officials. I regard all of these privileges as natural rights that I was born with, but only 50 years ago people fought to make sure that southern states secured these rights.

The film shed some light on what the students truly experienced. People were beaten within inches of their life and jailed for long periods of time just for acknowledging that they had the constitutional right to ride the bus through the south however they would like. The arrests in Mississippi filled Parchment Prison to capacity with Freedom Riders, where they were forced to work and deprived of their mattresses and tooth brushes  simply for singing Freedom Songs. These were everyday young men and women, many of whom were college educated but treated like common criminals. The injustices placed on the Freedom Riders were incredibly uneasy to watch as I sat in an air conditioned classroom at a mixed-race university enjoying liberties brought to me by their suffering.

Another uneasy scene was listening to Southern governors speak to segregation and seeing their views unchanged decades later. It spoke to the true feelings that these individuals held  towards segregation. It was not simply an idea they were promoting for the popular vote (or rather the vote by the populous that could vote), but rather a deep seeded hatred for desegregation and equal rights under the law. To see it spoken is a lot different than reading it in pages of a book or on the internet. It takes on a much deeper meaning and becomes truly frightening.

Course Reflection by Riley Ries

Before beginning this course I never felt truly confident of my knowledge of the American Civil Rights Movement. Sure I had learned about it in classes before, but it was never something that I took a lot of time to study outside of class. This course has been a truly inspirational one, though, both as a student and as an American citizen. A month ago if someone had asked me who the most influential entities of the Civil Rights Movement were, who had lead the charge, I would have answered with names such as Martin Luther King, Jr. or organizations such as the NAACP. After studying the movement though, after learning about the Freedom Rides and the sit-ins, I now realize that it was not the big organizations and famous names that were the base of the movement; rather, college students were the true leaders of the fight for equality. Students such as Diane Nash and Jim Zwerg were important figures, but there were countless

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Protestors, many of whom are students, lead by Reverend C.T. Vivian (left) and Fisk University student Diane Nash (center) march towards Nashville City Hall.

others whose names will never appear in history books and whose individual contributions will be forgotten with time, but these students deserve to have their legacy remembered. As mere children in comparison to many other activists, students were the ones who stepped up when the adults shirked away from the movement when it started to get terribly violent, when they were faced with the threat of assault, arrest, and even death, but they did so without a second thought, without caring that they may not see tomorrow’s sunrise, because they understood that if they were to die then they would die for a just and righteous cause: equality. If I am to be truly honest with myself, as a college student who is passionate about politics and civil rights, I do not think that I would have the bravery necessary to face beatings, prison, and/or death for the sake of my beliefs, which makes me feel somewhat ashamed and forces me to question whether or not my values are truly important to me if I would not die for them. In addition to the importance of student activism in the Civil Rights Movement, another major idea I will take away from this course is the extent to which de facto segregation has continued, and even worsened, since the end of the Civil Rights Movement. Take Selma, Alabama as a case study. Following forced desegregation of public schools, white families simply moved their children into private all-white schools and public schools became almost entirely black. Neighborhoods, which used to be at least partially desegregated, became completely segregated, and if a black family were to move to a white neighborhood massive white-flight would ensue. While blacks in the United States today do maintain equality in the eyes of the law and de jure segregation has come to an end, de facto segregation is still rampant across much of the South and the United States at large, and until we as Americans can get past our dark past filled with social issues, we will never be able to move forward.

 

Course Reflection by Maggie Gray

I have wanted to travel through the south ever since I was young and became fascinated by the history of the Civil Rights Movement, most notably Martin Luther King, Jr. My mother and I talked about doing it over spring break of my senior year, but driving from Michigan would have made for way too much time in the car. As soon as I heard of the Freedom Ride course, I knew it was a class I would take during my four years here. Having always wanted to take this trip, I had pretty high expectations. However, these were the expectations of someone who had never studied the movement at a collegiate level. My excitement and my expectations were based in the love of history that started when I was very young.

I can now say, at the end of the course, that my expectations were completely blown away. Traveling through Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee taught me a lot more about civil rights then any normal class could have. I was forced to confront the fact that racism and segregation are still the way of life in some parts of our country. While this angers me greatly, it is something I am grateful to have learned first-hand. Visiting the sites of important historical events was also a great learning experience. Even just standing in the same places as those who fought for freedom was an opportunity I will always treasure.

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Standing in front of Dexter Ave. Church, and seeing the Alabama state capitol down the street (pictured to the left) was a shocking, and somewhat uncomfortable experience.

The chance to meet with Joan Browning was one of the most memorable parts of the class for me. It was powerful to see Freedom Riders speaking in interviews and to visit the places they traveled, but actually engaging with someone who participated in the movement was something I never imagined I would have the chance to do. Talking with Joan, who was a young college student like myself during the Civil Rights Movement, made  me want to make more of my college career.

While the traveling was what drew me to the course in the first place, and while it was a valuable and enriching experience, I am also very pleased with the time we spent in class. Watching news footage of the movement, and hearing movement veterans reflect on their actions was more influential than I expected. It amazed me to remind myself how young the bulk of the movement was, a fact that can be easy to look over. Watching their interviews in later decades made me realize that many of the most important people from the movement are around today. This forces one to acknowledge the power that youth can have. I had previously not taken any history courses that included a time period where video footage was available, so this was a new opportunity. Analyzing the primary source video from a historical perspective was interesting, and made me look at the movement in new ways. I no longer see civil rights as a glorified movement where everything they fought for was accomplished. From the video and the text that we studied, in addition to the traveling, I now have a much more complex understanding of what the Civil Rights Movement truly was; a movement that accomplished a lot on paper, but was unable to succeed in changing the way people think.

Reflections – by Marquita Dunn

 

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Police Dogs – Kelly Ingram Park

The Freedom Riders were young college students who put their lives on the line and had no fear of being killed. They fought to integrate interstate public transportation. As the fight continued there was a massive backlash. The ruling of the Interstate Commerce Commission prompted Ruling Gov. John Patterson, a race baiter, to do all in his power to maintain segregated transportation in Alabama. The violence that the Freedom Riders endured is difficult to imagine. As we strolled thru Kelly Ingram Park, the chained dogs and fire hose exhibits made me uncomfortable. In my mind I pictured the fear that the demonstrators must have felt; they were people who only wanted the same rights as white citizens. Later on Highway 80 we stopped at the Viola Liuzzo Memorial. She was a white civil rights activist and mother of five who sacrificed her life for the struggle. I wondered what her family members felt. Did they support her decision to join the Freedom Riders, did they become involved after her death, how did the children honor her?

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As we entered New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, the destruction from Hurricane Katrina is still very much evident today, eleven years later. Will this part of the city ever rebuild and become the city that it once was. Could you imagine the despair that these people felt knowing that they lost everything they owned? They had no one to turn to; even the Federal Government mishandled the situation.

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Where houses once stood – Lower Ninth Ward – New Orleans

In Jackson as arrived at the Medgar Evers home, I remembered hearing Myrlie Evers Williams speak in Lexington two years ago. She described the night that her husband was killed and the chaos that surrounded the house. To witness such a horrific murder took a toll on her children. I was in awe as I listened to her describe that night, and her strength amazed me. A chill passed through me as we stood in front of the ruins of the Bryant Grocery in Money, Mississippi as I considered the fear on the face of young Emmett Till when he was kidnapped, beaten and thrown in the Tallahatchie River. I hoped and prayed that he was dead before he was bound and thrown from the bridge.

Memphis was just downright emotionally draining. To be in the Civil Rights Museum and see Martin Luther King’s room and the wreath on the balcony were he fell brought back the memory of watching it all unfold on national television. I was eleven years old in 1968 and I cried and was angry because his life was cut short. And then we got to Fisk University in Nashville, where Diane Nash was a student, and it was almost like coming full circle. This is where the young college students attended school. I am so thankful they didn’t give up the fight because we may not be where we are today. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to take Dr. DeLaney’s class. I will remember the good times we had on the trip, the discussion in class after viewing the Eye on the Prize. This class has taught me to think about the way I interpret history, and I understand that history is forever changing.

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National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel -Where Dr. King died