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The Civil Rights Trip: A Unique Experience

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The Civil Rights Trip: A Unique Experience

The Martin Luther King statue of Kelly Ingram Park.

The Martin Luther King statue of Kelly Ingram Park.

The Martin Luther King statue of Kelly Ingram Park.

The Martin Luther King statue of Kelly Ingram Park.

Lisa Hess, Writer

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Over Fall Break, Dr. Adriana Ernstberger and Dr. Wesley Bishop of the History Department here at Marian University took 32 students on a trip to three cities in Alabama: Birmingham, Selma, and Montgomery. The whole trip lasted five days and four nights, and we visited many museums and historic sites of the Civil Rights Movement. The doctors hope that this trip was the start of many more history-related trips to come. This is a brief summary of the trip complete with some personal observations.

On the first day, October 12, all of us met in front of the Marian Hall Chapel around 7:30am. We packed our belongings onto the bus and left for Alabama at 8:00am. It was an uncomfortable 8-hour ride to Birmingham. Thankfully, we were given a few breaks and the Doctors put on some documentaries for us to watch. We arrived at the Comfort Inn at 4:00pm. We left our things in our rooms and got back on the bus to go to dinner at a restaurant called Jefferson’s. It was a classic American restaurant that had many sports-related decorations. Everyone seemed to really enjoy the food. After dinner, we went back to the hotel to sleep.

The next morning, we had a classic breakfast at the hotel. We repacked our things, checked out, and headed for the first site: the Birmingham Museum of Art. They had a special exhibit on the Civil Rights Movement called For Freedoms, which was located near the entrance of the building. It featured several photos taken of specific moments in Civil Rights history, such as “Bloody Sunday,” and the massive church meetings. There were only a couple of paintings. The most interesting part of the exhibit was an interactive piece called Your Freedoms. Visitors were encouraged to write their most valued freedom on a Post-it note and stick it to the wall. We took the rest of the time to look at the other exhibits and visit the gift shop. After we were finished, we loaded the bus and left to go eat lunch at a restaurant called Mrs. B’s. Unfortunately, Mrs. B’s was closed. Instead, we went to a restaurant called Zeek’s which was owned by the parents of the owners of Mrs. B’s. Either way, these restaurants were historically significant. They provided a place for black people to meet and plan protests. We took our food to-go and we ate in Kelly Ingram Park, a park comprised of many Civil Rights memorials and statues. After walking around for a while, we went to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute just across the street. We went on a self-guided tour through a museum full of antiques and artifacts. What was very interesting about the displays was that they all tried to replicate a scene, which almost literally immersed people into the history. We ended the day by going to our next hotel in Selma and eating Papa John’s pizza for dinner.

 

Ebenezer Baptist Church

The next day was Sunday, which meant that we were all going to church. We were able to choose whether or not we wanted to go to the 7:30am mass at the Queen of Peace Catholic Church. I chose not to go because it was too early for me. Besides, I’m not Catholic. However, we all went to the Ebenezer Baptist Church at 10:30am. This church service was a party! Everyone was singing, and some people even danced! I personally really enjoyed it, and I do believe that the Holy Spirit was among us as we fellowshipped with the churchgoers. As we left on the bus, I heard everyone talking about how much they loved the service. Even the students who weren’t religious liked it. Now it was lunchtime. We ate at Mama’s Kitchen & Grill, which served plenty of classic country foods. After that, we started the Footprints to Freedom Tour at the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute. It was a small museum with little rooms for the exhibits. The small size made it feel like a claustrophobic maze, but the presentation of the information was worth the crowdedness. We learned all about the efforts and struggles of black people who fought for their right to vote. After finding the end of the labyrinth, we headed for the next part of the tour: The Slavery and Civil War Museum. We had just gotten off the bus when we were told to stand in a straight line against the building with girls and boys separated. Our tour guide who had been with us at the Voting Rights Museum then told us that we were now slaves. Needless to say, we were surprised. He stayed very true to the act. He called us the “N-word,” told us to act as if we had chains on us, and even yelled at us. He brought us into this museum (which really seemed more like a messed up haunted house) and basically took us through an experience from the eyes of a slave. We were crunched up into a tiny room, which the guide told us was the bottom of a ship. We went from being carried to the New World to being sold to seeing fellow slaves be murdered. We were all very emotional by the time the tour was done. Some of the students were crying, some were frightened, and others were angry. I personally had been terrified throughout almost the whole thing. That experience changed us all.

 

The Edmund Pettus Bridge

We were emotionally exhausted, but the tour continued as we paid a short visit to Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church to take pictures. The church was where many protest marches began, which would go all the way to Montgomery. We then walked over the famous Edmund Pettus Bridge, where civil rights protestors were massacred on “Bloody Sunday.” The tour ended at the end of the bridge, where a small Civil Rights memorial was. Tired, we went to our last hotel located in Montgomery. Since we were now behind schedule, we ordered dinner from Sonic. There was then a huge, frustrating misunderstanding with the food. They told us that they had no meat, but after another phone call, it turned out they had the food ready all along. However, we had no transportation because our bus driver wasn’t allowed to drive after 9pm, so Sonic delivered to us. We finally got our food, but it had taken a long, stressful time. I grabbed my food and went to bed feeling very tired and irritated. 

 

Hanging blocks: The memorials for the lynched.

The next day, we left our things at the hotel since we were going to stay a second night there. We boarded the bus with only our most essential items, which made the bus feel much less crowded. Our first stop of the day was the Civil Rights Memorial Museum. The museum was relatively small. It catalogued the lives of the people whose names are carved into a very special memorial, which we very unfortunately were unable to see because it was closed for construction. Instead, we sat in the museum’s theater and watched a movie that explained everything about the memorial. Towards the end, there was a neat screen that was called the “Wall of Tolerance.” It held all the names of people who have vowed to fight against hate and intolerance. We were allowed to add our names to the wall, so I did. I took a picture as the computer verified that my name had been added. Afterwards, we went to lunch at Chris’ Hot Dogs, an over 100-year-old restaurant. It was known for serving both white and black people in the past despite the segregation laws. It has also been visited by many famous people, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Elvis Presley, and even the two George Bush presidents. The menu had many more choices of food than I thought it would: hot dogs (of course), hamburgers, and even chicken fingers. After lunch, we went to the last museum: The Legacy Museum. This museum was unique in that it focused on the firsthand experiences of slaves, terrorized black people, and incarcerated black people. There were mini documentaries playing to watch, computers full of articles to read, and even some art sculptures to look at. Our last site of the entire trip was The National Memorial for Peace and Justice. This memorial was created for all of the lynched people in every county of every state of the United States. It consisted of large metal blocks for each county, with the names of the lynched within that county listed. After a long walk of somber reflection, we went to dinner at Moe’s Original BBQ. As we were almost finished eating, some of the students paused the conversations in the restaurant to present Dr. Ernstberger and Dr. Bishop with a Civil Rights poster that all of us had signed earlier on the bus. It was our way of saying “Thank you for such a wonderful trip!” We spent our last night in the hotel.

The final day had us pack our things and start our now longer drive back to Marian. We stopped for bathroom breaks and for a lunch break at Mission BBQ in Tennessee. We arrived at Marian around 7:30pm, exhausted.

Overall, the Civil Rights Trip was a lot of fun! Everyone was having a great time. I personally learned so much more about the history of the Civil Rights Movement than I ever would have in a classroom setting. I would like to thank Dr. Ernstberger and Dr. Bishop for putting this trip together and for making it run smoothly without any major issues. Hopefully the History Department will keep doing these kinds of trips for students every year. I would definitely recommend this trip to any student, history major or not.

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