Today was our first day on the bus for the “Tracking the Civil Rights Movement” travel study. Our goal is to spend two weeks in the South (Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi) and enhance our knowledge about the movement by visiting places like Jackson, Mississippi and Birmingham, Alabama, and to speak to veterans of the Freedom Summer of 1964. A good part of the day was spent sleeping and chatting with new acquaintances. However, our time was not wasted and we got to learning right away.
We watched two videos, one of which was about middle and high school students marching to jail in Birmingham, Ala. The title was “The Children’s March” and for those who do not know the history well, it has great detail about school-aged children leaving school and marching to Birmingham to protest segregation. Adult supporters of the Civil Rights Movement called the children the “secret weapon” because the adults were nearly out of options to claim their civil rights. Over 1,000 kids marched to Birmingham to talk to the mayor about segregation and most of those kids were arrested and spent up to two weeks in jail.
What really mind-boggles me is how adults sent innocent children to jail and also sprayed a powerful jet stream of water and let loose dogs to bite those in the groups gathered in Birmingham. I give credit to those protesters that showed restraint and were non-violent during the protests. I think that was the turning point of the movement. If nothing had been done in the ’50s and ’60s for civil rights, those same children– who would be adults themselves today– would probably be experiencing the same kind of unfairness today. When children start to get involved in serious and dangerous matters such as the path that the Civil Rights Movement took, that’s when you know things are very, very complicated and situations have gone terribly wrong.
For the rest of the trip, the sites, videos and veterans looks to be very insightful and hitting us “in the feels.” We have our own veteran of the Freedom Summer of 1964 traveling with us. Joe Morse, is a Winona native, and traveled down south when he was a college student at St. Mary’s University. He has already provided us with many stories of his experiences and taught us a few freedom songs, which are songs that African Americans and Freedom Summer volunteers would sing when protesting.
We are taking the same path that many college students and young people took in 1964 and our purpose is to remember the veterans and those who fought for civil rights and to make sure that those civil rights standards are still in place for today’s generation.