by Halle Johnson, Student Public Relations Writer
For years, Cedarville University has been taking students on a weeklong tour of key civil rights locations as part of an extracurricular experience. But when the chartered bus departed campus on October 20, 2022, the tour was more than just a weeklong exercise, it was now part of a new, intensive nine-week, three-credit hour class.
The tour visited civil rights landmarks, including the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and the 16th Street Church in Birmingham, Alabama, where the 1963 protest marches took place. Near the end of the tour, students also traveled the 54-mile highway in Selma, Alabama, where “Bloody Sunday” took place, and visited the Lynching Museum in Montgomery, Alabama.
“We always end our trip attending the historically African-American Atlanta Bible Baptist Church,” said Dr. Robert Clark, assistant professor of history and co-professor with Dr. Patrick Oliver, associate professor of criminal justice. “Our course is important for Christians because the church in America has not always reflected what it is meant to. We are called to be reconciled to people who are not like us, and that only comes through Jesus Christ.”
The Civil Rights in America: Tour class is designed to provide students with eight weeks of regular classroom lectures, assessments, and assignments, along with the five-day bus tour.
“The purpose of the course is not to tell students what to think about practicing cultural competency, it is to help them discern what they believe and to articulate the evidence that supports their view,” said Oliver. “There's been oppression in the United States and it's important to take an honest view of history and help students better understand civil rights history from a biblical worldview, and how it impacts race relations today."
Throughout the course, Clark and Oliver teach from "The Movement" by Thomas C. Holt, and "One Race, One Blood" by Ken Ham and Charles Ware. During classroom instruction, students interact with the material, engage in discussions, and write a journal. The bus tour brings all of the material into focus as the students see many of the key civil rights historical sites.
The 24 students who traveled on the tour returned to Cedarville with a better understanding of the importance of the civil rights movement.
Grace Gregory, a senior early education major from Downers Grove, Illinois, was a member of the first civil rights class and came away from the instruction—in class and on the tour—transformed.
“For me, the course was transformational,” said Gregory. “I am mixed race, but never felt like I knew that much about African-American history. Having both the history in the classroom setting and the visual impact of seeing where the civil rights movement took place completely changed my understanding.”
The tour also helped Gregory to reflect on the perspectives of Americans impacted by the movement.
“I became extremely close with the group of students from the course,” said Gregory. “We all joined the course because we wanted to learn about civil rights from a biblical perspective. This course allowed us to discuss and engage with each other despite our backgrounds or preconceived mindset.”
One of the most impactful moments for Gregory on the trip was visiting the 16th Street Church in Birmingham where four young girls died in a Ku Klux Klan bombing in 1963.
“We stood in the park where other young black children protested after the bombing. And where children protesting had high-pressure hoses and dogs turned on them by local police,” said Gregory. “It was heartbreaking, but we stood there with a bishop from the church and sang ‘This Little Light of Mine,’ which was a reminder that as believers, even in the midst of injustice, we have hope.”
Historically, Cedarville University has educated students about the civil rights movement through the five-day bus tour that was led by Dr. Murray Murdoch, distinguished professor of history, who recently retired from teaching. Under Murdoch’s leadership, the tour through the American south became known for its concise, but impactful overview of race relations in America. And, with Murdoch’s retirement, Cedarville faculty leaders decided to revamp the program and turn it into a three-hour course that can be substituted for general education social science requirements.
"Every student at Cedarville University, regardless of their major, will benefit professionally by being more culturally competent," added Oliver. "To understand the current state of civil rights in America, one must know the history of civil rights in the United States, which has always been the focus of Cedarville's civil rights initiative."
Located in southwest Ohio, Cedarville University is an accredited, Christ-centered, Baptist institution with an enrollment of 5,082 undergraduate, graduate, and dual-enrolled high school students in more than 175 areas of study. Founded in 1887, Cedarville is one of the largest private universities in Ohio, recognized nationally for its authentic Christian community, rigorous academic programs, including the department of history and government, high graduation and retention rates, accredited professional and health science offerings, and the #4 national ranking by the Wall Street Journal for student engagement. For more information about the University, visit cedarville.edu.