Spring break for one group of students was a deeply emotional experience in which they explored the ideas and sites of the American Civil Rights Movement and discovered its legacy and the ongoing struggle for human equality.

Sponsored by the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program, a 14-student class and two teachers went on a 2,500-mile tour through the South to meet with many of the movement”s organizers and leaders, and to witness firsthand how the movement really worked.

“It is so much fun to see students connect with a subject on so many different levels,” class organizer Joe Gonzalez said. “To watch students get so inspired that is just beautiful.”

In Cincinnati, the class met with the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a prominent leader in the 1963 Birmingham, Ala., Civil Rights marches.

The class also met with organizers of the 1964 Freedom Summer in Mississippi, who often traveled the back roads in great peril and worked to register black citizens as voters. All were deeply affected by the 1964 deaths of three civil rights workers near Philadelphia and Mississippi, but they continued working aware of the danger.

“It was not just talking with these amazing people,” LSA Freshman Stephanie Fitzwater said. “It was also seeing the environment in which the movement took place and getting a sense for the emotions behind it.”

Fitzwater said the trip taught her more about America”s history than what she has learned in some of her classes.

“There are different levels, and it is a lot more complicated and a lot more human than what you read in history books,” Fitzwater said.

Each year, Gonzalez, joined by his wife Teresa Buckwalter, said he tries to make this trip an educational and fun experience for the students.

“I wanted to be a teacher who made a difference in the lives of students and when I get back from a trip that is exactly how I feel,” Gonzalez said.

The trip is also accompanied by a three-credit course on the Civil Rights movement taught by Graduate Student Instructor Alyssa Picard.

The students also visited Shaw High School and met with Jessie Williams, the first black teacher to integrate a white high school in the Mississippi Delta, who explained to them some of the faults in the integration system.

“It made me question the way integration happened,” LSA freshman Jennifer Nathan said. “It seems to have happened on a superficial level and kind of made everything move into a more subversive form of racism that still exists.”

Former SNCC organizer Bob Moses said the first generation enjoyed their rights too quickly. Moses has since started The Algebra Project, an organization that sees mathematical comprehension as a tool to create opportunity for those who have not yet found equal education.

Some remembered Moses for his penetrating stare and his deep sense of commitment toward achieving the ends the movement of the “60s never realized.

“I was overwhelmed by a sense of how much needs to be done,” Nathan said. But she, as most of the students, said she gained a great deal of motivation from the trip.

“The sense I got from all those people was at no point a sense of hopelessness,” she said.

Fitzwater said she believes the root of the problem lies in the movement”s lack of addressing the economic situation.

“They attempted to remedy the situation but the problems ran a lot deeper. You have to look at economics to find a way to make everything more equal,” Fitzwater said.

Gonzalez referred to the class as an experiment in “experiential education,” and said he was first inspired to teach the class because he “wanted students to see a relationship between what they learn in the classroom and the outside world.”

“I like academic learning. It has its place,” he said. “But I believe it needs to be joined with experiential learning in order for the student to learn the most possible.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *