Not Even Past: Black Liberation Movements in the American South

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s marked the start of an endless battle for social justice and equality. We will immerse ourselves on an in-depth exploration of the American South. Through the visit of various historically relevant sites and organizations, students will be able to identify the roots of the conflict, recognize the strategies and actions taken by the Movement leaders, and reconstruct their own concept of the social discourse around racial discrimination.

The time is at hand for reckoning with the past, recognizing the truth of the present, and moving together to redeem the nation for our future. If we don’t act now, if you don’t address race immediately, there very well may be no future. – Michael Eric Dyson

Learning Objectives

Build empathy and learn inquiry strategies and ways to withhold judgement in the moment of discomfort.

Explore the concept of non-violence and how activists can use this practice as a basis of their actions to bring about change.

Understand how the Civil Rights Movement helped shape the reality of the US today, and identify the inequality gaps that still remain.

Places and Activities

This program is flexible, and can be offered in 3, 5, or 7 day itineraries.

We start our program by focusing on the universal icon of the Civil Rights Movement: Martin Luther King Jr. We visit his birthplace, his spiritual home and site of his burial. We have the opportunity of meeting with members of organizations working to uphold his mandate such as the King Center and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and we visit the Center for Civil Rights and Human rights which provides scaffolding as we delve into accounts of courage and struggle around the world. An in-depth exploration of his life will later allow us to step back and discuss the balance between appreciation and tokenization of MLK Jr.s legacy, and the extent to which the constructed “heroic narrative” allows for a dismissal of continuing structural inequities.

Our time in Montgomery is spent visiting sites and organizations that have become historically relevant to the Civil Rights Movement. We start at the Rosa Parks Bus Stop, the site of her famous, peaceful act of defiance that incited a revolution. We later visit the Equal Justice Initiative, the non profit that created the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice; we meet with a Freedom Rider to learn first-hand about their experience in this illustrious campaign for equality and justice; we visit the Southern Poverty Law Center, to learn about their early work filing civil suits on behalf of the victims of white supremacists groups; our journey ends at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, a National Historic landmark where MLK Jr. organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

The exploration of these sites allows us to better understand the history of racial injustice in the US, and the narratives that sustain injustice across generations. With the information gathered along the way, we will be able to discuss the lack of accountability for past and continuing atrocities, and discover how we can help raise awareness and work towards justice in our own communities.

On our way to Birmingham, we’ll make a stop in Selma, site of some of the most horrific acts of violence perpetrated by local lawmen against the voting rights protesters. We will visit the Brown Chapel AME Church, walk the Bloody Sunday March Trail and visit the Selma Interpretive Center, to learn more about this infamous day in history.

We then move on to Birmingham, starting at the Bethel Baptist church, which served as headquarters for the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, an organization that focused on legal, nonviolent direct action against segregation and discrimination. We walk around the block with a historical guide, learning about the three separate bombings of the complex buildings, and the work that persisted anyway. We make a stop at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which was also bombed during the Civil Rights Movement, which remains as a center of spirit for the surrounding area. We end our visit at the Civil Rights Institute, a large interpretative museum and research center, which includes a rich collection of voice recordings from the Civil Rights Movement participants.

Our program ends in Memphis, the city where MLK Jr. was assassinated. We will cement our knowledge of the trajectory of the Civil Rights Movement, and synthesize the threats we have picked up and woven throughout our journey through the South, in order to see how our initial assumptions were altered over the course of our program.

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