The Civil Rights Bus Tour: Embracing Racial Reconciliation

by Public Relations

Committed to equipping students for lifelong leadership and service, Cedarville University is actively engaging members of its Christian university in the area of racial reconciliation. On January 18, 25 students and five faculty members piled into a double-decker bus for a four-day trip touring many civil rights historical sites.

Led by Jon Purple, the dean for student life programs, the fifth annual bus trip began its journey in Atlanta, Georgia, at Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthplace. The group continued to Alabama where they visited the Rosa Parks Library and Museum as well as the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the National Voting Rights Museum. Stopping in Memphis, Tennessee, the tour spent an afternoon at the National Civil Rights Museum, located at the Lorrain Motel where King was assassinated.

“It was an eye-opening experience to see the horrors that were perpetrated in the name of racial purity and even in the name of God,” said Zachary Weston, a junior management student who attended the trip. “It was so frustrating to read of men and women who served their country—some even as soldiers—yet would be lynched or shot if they tried to register to vote.”

Janice Supplee, vice president for enrollment management and marketing, said she gained a better understanding of the movement and the lives of the individuals involved after the tour.

“I knew a little about Martin Luther King Jr., but I somehow missed how much his passion for equality and human dignity was driven by biblical teaching and eternal hope,” Supplee said. “Listening to the speech he delivered the night before his assassination when he talked of having ‘seen the promised land,’ you hear a man—fallen like the rest of us to be sure—but a man who had a confident hope in a God who one day will make all things right.”

Taking advantage of the travel time, the group watched many movies about the movement such as “Mississippi Burning,” “Rosewood,” “Red Tails” and “The Help,” all of which spurred discussion of civil rights issues, both past and present.

“In order to have a complete understanding of racial reconciliation one must be willing to see unsettling things and hear difficult truths,” said Emilie Dalavai, a freshman studying global economics and business. “It was disturbing and hard to watch, but I have grown so much as a person as a result of this trip.”

“Being so close for such a long journey facilitated deep discussion and fast friendships,” Weston said. “The conversations tended to be very personal, and the trip was meaningful because the lessons and relationships last far beyond the trip itself.”

“This trip opens your eyes to others points of views,” said Leah Perkins, a senior studying early childhood education. “There is something to be said about being in disagreement and being able to work and hear out other opinions and views with the same people that you have to spend the rest of the weekend with.”

“Though Dr. King and his colleagues started the movement, there is still so much need in the United States to seek racial reconciliation,” said Collin Barrett, a senior studying computer engineering. “Our country is changing drastically, and if we are to be a vehicle for the advancement of the Gospel or even an effective professional, we have to grasp the diversity and interracial needs that are now present in our world.”

Realizing that students will find themselves employed and serving in a variety of diverse locations, Purple notes that the University must prepare students for these opportunities.

“We need to look to the past to understand the present,” Purple said, “as history—especially the recent history of the civil rights movement—very much impacts our present world.”

On the last day of the trip, the tour attended the multicultural Fellowship Memphis church, which is pastored by Reverend Bryan Loritts.

“Our final stop on the trip was a picture of what happens when God enters our world of brokenness,” Supplee said. “Here is a truly multiethnic body of believers located in a Southern city with a troubled racist history, worshipping together in love and unity.”

“It was so encouraging to see a multicultural church working well together to be the hands and feet of Jesus,” Perkins said. “Never in my life have I seen blacks and whites working together to live out exactly what it means to be Christians.”

Supplee said that this trip reminded her that Cedarville is life-transforming and is a place where people are deliberate about being more like Christ.

“I'm so thankful to be part of a place that is intentional about helping students learn, wrestle with tough issues and apply truth to the questions of life.”

Cedarville University attracts 3,300 undergraduate, graduate and online students to more than 100 areas of study. Cedarville is a Christ-centered learning community recognized nationally for rigorous academic programs, strong graduation and retention rates, accredited professional and health science offerings and leading student satisfaction ratings. Visit the University online at