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

Civil Rights Movement in 1960

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.

 

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