Students hit the road to understand freedom

Fort Worth, TX | January 22, 2013 09:39 AM | Print this story

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Special to the Star-Telegram

A group of TCU students spent the last part of their winter break traveling to four states over eight days to learn about the freedom struggle of black Americans.

The second annual TCU Civil Rights Bus Tour, sponsored by the Center for Community Involvement & Service-Learning, TCU Leadership Center and Department of History, included not just visits to historic sites and museums but also panel discussions with grassroots movement activists; critical conversations on race and racism; introductory lessons on community organizing and the origins of social movements; and training in group-centered leadership.

The goal is to allow students to learn from the past in order to change the future.

The group visited Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas; the Lorraine Motel in Memphis; Tougaloo University in Jackson, Miss.; the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.; the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Ala.; and the Emmett Till Historic Intrepid Center in the Mississippi Delta.

Here are two students' reflections about the tour.

-- Max Krochmal, assistant professor of history and tour leader



The arduous, divisive push for equal political, social and economic rights for African-Americans in the United States challenged me on the tour with its simultaneous immediacy and seeming permanence. I learned to see discrimination as a way of thinking and a paternalistic ethic of hierarchy rather than just a system of policies under the label of "Jim Crow."

Though in 2013 the poll tax may be gone, the Justice Department still is correcting disenfranchisement through voting maps in Southern states, and the federal government monitors discrimination in housing, employment and education.

The fight for equality must continue against the ever-present risk of backsliding.

I saw it in the quietly ebbing waters of the Mississippi Delta after a rain, receding from a land in the shadows of its former plantation economy. I saw it in the Memphis sanitation workers we met, aged men who were still fighting for their jobs 45 years after Martin Luther King Jr. promised them a mountaintop. I saw it in the lobbying of the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA), a group advocating for public schools and workers' compensation even as the legislature tried to pass policies restricting the rights of working-class immigrants and minorities in the state.

Touring with a group of diverse, committed TCU student leaders showed all of us how we must critically reflect on whether the leadership and behavior we demonstrate truly creates equality of opportunity for all. Without a culture of human rights, tolerance and sharing public goods against tides of oppression, the great works of civil rights leaders past and present will have been in vain.

-- Pearce Edwards, senior political science major



The appalling concepts of institutionalized racism and white supremacy sparked my interest in further investigating the discrepancies of justice in our nation. As I reflected on our nation's gloomy past during our visit to Slave Haven, a museum celebrating a stop on the underground railroad in Memphis, one thing came to mind: How could we, as citizens of the most powerful country in the world, attempt to blame other nations for violating human rights while we single-handedly have committed some of the most inhumane crimes known to the human race?

Being on tour with my fellow student-activists has taught me to take a more steadfast approach in the struggle for equal rights. After speaking with local citizens and senators at the Mississippi State Capitol, I realized that our generation's work is yet to be done.

Frank McCune, a veteran and activist, stressed that it is my generation's duty to be accountable for our actions and that we will reap what we sow.

Jaribu Hill, attorney and director of the Mississippi Workers' Center, and Margaret Block, former SNCC activist and poet, showed me it is far better to be feared by the system than to fear the system. They are fearless women and the epitome of ordinary people doing extraordinary things in their communities.

We spent our last few days at the Sunflower County Freedom Project, in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. Developed by former Teach for America/Americorps members, this program derives its inspiration from the &dquo;freedom schools&dquo; created during the civil rights movement and uses the educational practices of civil rights activists as a model for teaching today's youth.

From the tour, I concluded that we cannot tolerate institutionalized practices. Instead, we must remember the challenge Les Downey presents: Education is the seed of freedom.

-- Mimi Woldeyohannes, senior political science major

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