Friday, March 30, 2012

Civil Rights Tour 2011

Photo from TTC Tour
By Glendalys De Jesus

The Civil Rights Tour to Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia was an incredible experience. I feel so fortunate to have been able to be a part of it. I honestly have no idea where to begin because there is just so much that I can share. The way I felt while on the trip and how I feel after, is hard to put into a few words. The places we went to and the people we encountered have honestly changed something within me.

I was one of eight TTC students who toured important civil rights sites throughout the South. I traveled with Julia Gibbs, Marilyn Gibbs, Samuel Iquinto, Porsha Little, Shardonne’ Simpson, Crystal Williams and Akeem Young. We visited Tuskegee, Montgomery, Selma and Birmingham, Alabama, as well as Memphis, Tennessee and Atlanta, Georgia. Regina Smart and Vince Ashby of Palmer Campus organized the tour.

The first day on the trip, we went to Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama, and had the chance to interact with many people on campus. We toured the George Washington Carver Museum, saw the house where Booker T. Washington lived on campus, and spoke to students throughout our tour as well. The most pleasant encounter of the day for me was when we met Ms. Barbara Howard.

Photo from TTC Tour
She is the Deputy Director for Program Operations at the University and stopped us in the hallway of the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center and asked us where we were from. Next thing you know, we were engaged in a deep conversation and she, having just met us, spent the next two hours showing us around and explaining the history of Tuskegee University. Ms. Howard also shared with us some of her experiences as a young Civil Rights Activist and mentioned that they are included in a book called Freedom's Children by Ellen Levine. Her mother was a beautician and worked with Rosa Parks' husband, who was a barber. She was with him when he received the call that Rosa Parks had been arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus. Ms. Howard also had the opportunity to work for the NAACP office in Montgomery in the same position that Rosa Parks once held years before. Ms. Barbara Howard was so enthusiastic and passionate about everything she spoke about with us. The time she dedicated to us was so deeply appreciated. I believe we were all captivated by her great energy, conversation and spirit.

The next day, we went to the Rosa Parks Library and Museum and the Children's Wing Museum at Troy University in Montgomery, Alabama. At the museum, we sat on a bus that was like a time machine and it took us through some of the events leading up to the moment when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat and what followed after. It was a great way to take in information about the journey. Afterwards, we toured the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and Parsonage where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lived while he served as pastor of the church.

Photo from TTC Tour
The best moment for me of that day was the tour of the Parsonage and the closing of the tour in the kitchen. We had the opportunity to stand in the very same kitchen where Dr. King had an epiphany, and we were able to hear about it from Dr. King himself. Our tour guide played a recording for us as he described his experience, and we stood in silence, taking in his every word. I was so deeply moved by his words that it brought tears to my eyes. The way he described that night and how he felt, was so personal that, for a second, I could dare to say I felt like he was sitting right there in the kitchen with us. It was like I could see into his mind and heart, and I felt for a moment how torn he was between trying to figure out how to protect his family and not wanting to fail his community. He was carrying so much weight on his shoulders at such a young age but I can hardly tell through his speeches and his presence. He held himself together at all times, so peaceful, hopeful and high spirited. I think we all, for a brief second that day, experienced an intimate moment with Dr. King.

At the end of the tour, we met Shirley Cherry, a retired English teacher and Tour Director of the Dexter Parsonage Museum. She was so nice to talk to, and we spent about an hour in the gift shop speaking to her. Ms. Cherry told us about her making friends with a woman who turned out to be the daughter of the man who arrested Rosa Parks years ago. She was able to interview him and take pictures with him at the Parsonage. It was such a symbolic and intimate moment with respect to the man, that I just appreciated how she took the time to share that with us. Ms. Cherry was also a person whom I found to be very passionate about what she shared. She spoke many wise and motivating words about excelling in our educations. We could tell that she was glad we were there and that we wanted to know more about such a significant time in history.

Photo from TTC Tour
Later that day, we headed to Selma, Alabama, and walked the Edmund Pettus Bridge where 600 marchers walked for the right to vote in 1965. As they came across the bridge, they were confronted with Alabama state troopers who told them to turn around and head to their homes or churches. The marchers did not move, and the troopers violently attacked them with nightsticks and tear gas. That day became known as Bloody Sunday.

On the third day, we went to the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and had the pleasure of attending their morning service. The church was bombed in 1963, and four young girls were killed and others injured while attending Sunday school. I am so glad we were able to sit through such an uplifting service because it touched on a great lesson about looking at our own faults before we judge those of others. We also went to the Civil Rights Institute right across the street, which has a statue of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement who had just passed a few weeks prior.  

The fourth day, we went to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, the site where Dr. King was assassinated. There is still a wreath hanging from the balcony of the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was shot. There was so much to take in at this museum; I believe I spent the most time here. We were able to see the room where he and Rev. Ralph Abernathy were staying. Across the street was another part of the museum that had the layout of the room from which was believed Dr. King to have been shot. They even had original evidence collected from the room at the boarding house, including binoculars, the rifle they believe was used to shoot Dr. King and the original bullet that killed him and matched the rifle, were all on display. One of the things

I was most touched by at this museum was a film they played for us entitled, "The Witness: From the Balcony of Room 306." The witness was Reverend Samuel Billy Kyles who was standing next to Dr. King on the balcony when he was shot. Rev. Kyles went through the last moments of Dr. King's life in such detail that I could almost feel like I was there. It was such a personal documentary that just moved me so much. Rev. Kyles explained how they had plans to have dinner at his house and offered details of their last conversation in the hotel room. Dr. King went to Memphis to help protest with sanitation workers for better working conditions. Even the final acts of his life were selfless.

Finally, on the last day we went to Atlanta, Georgia, and visited the King Center. We had a chance to see the original wagon that carried Dr. King's body when he passed, where he and his wife are buried, clothes they wore, a suitcase of Dr. King's, his personal belongings and various family photos. We also saw the birth home of Dr. King and toured the Ebenezer Baptist Church where his grandfather and father served as pastors. It was a great way to come to conclude our trip in the city where he grew up, and to get a glimpse not just of the leader he was but the man, son, husband, father and friend that he was as well.

I believe the trip was a success. The group of people I had the pleasure of taking this trip with had wonderful energy. Because it was a small group, the trip and conversations became more intimate and personal. I enjoyed every minute, and there was not a second that we were not learning. I remember one moment when we were at a museum; we all looked at a wall of quotes but happened to all set our eyes on one particular quote in silence. It read “If there is no struggle, there is no progress,” by Frederick Douglass. At this time, I feel like the purpose of the trip fell into perspective. As individuals, as students and as a group, we had grown a little bit more.

Being presented with the opportunity to participate in the Civil Rights Tour is something I am truly grateful for. I would encourage any student or person who encounters the same opportunity to go and enjoy this wonderful experience. It was powerful, enlightening and highly educational. The Civil Rights Tour exceeded my expectations in every way and most certainly was a life changing experience for me.

You can find out more about the tour at their Facebook page

I was one of eight TTC students who recently toured important civil rights sites throughout the South. I traveled with students Julia Gibbs, Marilyn Gibbs, Samuel Iquinto, Porsha Little, Shardonne’ Simpson, Crystal Williams and Akeem Young. We visited Tuskegee, Montgomery, Selma and Birmingham, Alabama, as well as Memphis, Tennessee and Atlanta, Georgia. Regina Smart and Vince Ashby of Palmer Campus organized the tour.


Post a Comment