I’ve always wanted to tour America’s South, and now I know some of the places to go to experience some of the difficult and triumphant moments in America’s Civil Rights Movement. A Walnut Creek social studies teacher and her 15 students at St. Joseph Notre Dame High School just arrived back home from enjoying 10 days of what for me would be a dream vacation.
Meg Honey, who is married to Kevin Honey, one of Walnut Creek Intermediate’s vice principals, and her diverse group of students traveled to the South with a nonprofit educational project called Sojourn to the Past. As Honey wrote on a blog
about the trip, it was to allow students to examine the modern Civil Rights Movement in depth. To do that, they visited the sacred sites of the Freedom Struggle and spent time meeting with many of the “ordinary people who did extraordinary things” in the fight for human rights.
The group started in Atlanta, where they visited the church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached. They also traveled to Selma and Montgomery, in Alabama, where they met the cousin of Emmett Till, the 15-year-old boy murdered for whistling at a white woman. “We are having the most amazing experience,” Honey tweeted on this day.
In Birmingham, they visited the 16th Street Baptist Church, the site of a bombing that killed four young girls. After a stop in Jackson, Mississippi, they swung by Little Rock, Arkansas, visiting Central High. Their trip ended in Memphis. Honey’s students (in the top photo) reflected the bravery of the Little Rock 9, the students who helped integrate Central High in 1957.
“It will truly be a transformative experience for all of us,” Honey wrote just before they departed for the South.
Two years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Memphis for a business conference. Memphis has its own colorful and tragic past and present. There’s Elvis, of course. As it happens, his career was in many ways shaped by the cultural changes taking place because of the Civil Rights movement, and you can learn more about that–plus see Elvis’s show outfits–if you visit Graceland.
Memphis is also home to what I would argue is one of the best museums of history and culture I have ever visited anywhere, including in Washingotn D.C., New York City, and capitals of Europe and Asia.
This is the National Civil Rights Museum, which is built around the Lorraine Motel, where Civil Rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968. The museum takes you room by room through a chronological history of the Civil Rights movement, weaving in a range of themes and using original artifacts and documents to back up this complicated story. You wind up in the room where King stayed his final night, then you can visit the rooming house across an alley, where King’s assassin, James Earl Ray, fired the fatal shot. The information on King’s assassination is presented like a murder thriller, with conspiracy theories, thrown in.
Honey and the St. Joseph Notre Dame students also were impressed by the museum’s tremendous presentation of this time in American history. There, they had the honor of meeting Rev. Billy Kyles, who was with King when he was killed. “Rev. Kyles’ message of hope and keeping Dr. King’s dream alive was the perfect way to end our journey,” Honey wrote.