Civil Rights Bus Tour
February 14, 2013
Today's post was written by Lauren Williams, a junior studying pharmacy at Cedarville University. She just recently returned from Cedarville's Civil Rights Bus Tour sponsored by Student Life. Cedarville University is intentional to provide opportunities for students to wrestle with difficult issues and find answers in the timeless truths of Scripture. Lauren reflects on her experience:
When looking back at this trip, I am a bit overwhelmed. The three days of this trip were spent in Atlanta, Montgomery, Selma, Birmingham, and even Memphis! It has been a JAM-PACKED three days.We started our trip learning about Dr. King's struggle and courage in the Civil Rights Movement. I was able to sit in the front row of the church that he co-pastored, Ebenezer Baptist Church. I wondered if I sat in any of the original pews. We walked the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the same way that the original demonstrators walked, minus the struggle. I stood where the white 'deputies' stood to block the demonstrators. I stood where blood was shed. I stood in the exact spot where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. took his last steps; where he was assassinated. I even met a man who was a demonstrator in the Selma-Montgomery March. Walking in the same footsteps of these brave fighters of injustice suddenly made black history more tangible and personal as it came alive.
On September 15, 1963, four young girls were killed at Sunday school at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL, when a bomb was planted at the church. The church served as a meeting point for Civil Rights meetings, and people didn't like that. When we visited the 16th Street Baptist Church, I walked into the bookstore of the church, and spoke to an older man. He told me that he had been attending the church for 55 years. I quickly did the math in my mind, and concluded that he was a member of the church in 1963, when the bombing occurred. As soon as I began to ask him about the bombing, his entire demeanor changed. His shoulders slumped and his face became sad. He said, 'The bombing was the hardest thing that I have ever had to experience,' then he told me, "I hope that you never have to go through anything like that." That was difficult to swallow, but then I asked him about the girls. As he was speaking about Denise McNair, a girl who was 14 when she was killed by the bombing, he slowly started to brighten up. He even smiled while talking about Denise. He said, "I knew little McNair since she was this little (bending to his side to show her height- putting his hand down by his thigh). She was the sweetest little thing. She was as sweet as could be." Speaking to those who had lived through these events made it all become so real.
On the way to every city, we watched thought-provoking movies that showed the raw truth of what life was like during the times of slavery through the Civil Rights Movement. After every movie, we had open discussion where we were constantly reminded of the freedom to share and ask questions that we would normally not ask because of the fear of offending someone. We were all there for the same purpose: to understand how we can all interact with each other more effectively and to understand how others think.
I didn't realize that the lives of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., foot soldiers (the marchers), and every black or white person involved in the Civil Rights Movement were so dangerous. I didn't realize how dangerous life was for my grandparents and parents until we watched the documentaries that gave more details than I had ever heard. In one of the museums, I turned the corner to see a full Ku Klux Klan outfit dressed on a mannequin. As soon as I made eye contact with the eyes of the mannequin, whose face was covered by the well-known KKK white hood, my whole body was immediately overcome with fear. After I had time to calm down, I put myself in the shoes of those who had to face the KKK, and face the fear of being lynched, or killed unjustly on the spot- only because of their darker skin. I now understand why my parents made me sit down and watch movies like "Roots." I now understand why they were always so excited to share what they experienced. I realize that they had sugar-coated their experiences that they shared with me. I can promise myself that I will never again undervalue what my parents and grandparents faced as young people living in that time. They're wonderful.
At the National Voters Rights Museum, I was taken aback when I saw a picture of a little boy that looked just like my dad when he was little. I then read a caption of a picture that described that Martin Luther King had to walk a group of young children to their newly integrated school, after they were all beat to the ground walking to school the day before. This was in 1965. My dad was 11 years old at that time. My dad grew up in Alabama. One of those children could have been my dad. As soon as I thought that, all of the stories that he had told me began to flood my mind at once. It reminded me of the stories he would tell about drinking out of the 'white' water fountain, and running away, about the "poor" kids calling him "Po," because he lived in extreme poverty, and it reminded me of him telling me about my grandma working as a maid on unfair wages and raising white babies so that she could feed her own babies.
I am now very proud to be an African-American woman. Before this trip, black history wasn't close to me, then I got to see for myself the places where both terrible crimes of injustice and hope-filled breakthroughs had occurred. After seeing little McNair's photo, I felt feelings of sadness. This trip made black history more than history. Now I see black history as my family's story. I appreciate my grandmother for walking in marches for me when she was just 17 years old. I appreciate my father for loving others, even after he lived and experienced so many hateful crimes towards him during the Civil Rights Movement. I am so grateful for the many brave black and white fighters who stood firm as they stood against injustice. I am proud and grateful.
Aside from learning and experiencing more than I could have imagined, I made some amazing friends on this trip. After sharing things with the group that I don't even share with my other friends, it opened up newfound relationships that will last a lifetime. The group members were interested in what I had to say, and in answering the questions that I had to ask them. I also would not have asked for a different group of leaders.. They were all transparent with us, and they trusted us. I loved that, and I appreciate it. God blessed this trip with a great group of people. We learned together, we experienced together, and we grew together. This trip was incredible, and was a great opportunity to see God work through our nation's history.
Lauren P. Williams is in her third year at Cedarville University as a Pre-Pharmacy Major. She participated on the Cedarville University Varsity Volleyball team for the past three years. Lauren is involved in many organizations and ministries on campus including SAAC and student mentoring at the Springfield Academy of Excellence. She is looking forward to what God has for her in the next four years at Cedarville as part of the Pharmacy program!
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