On the Civil Rights History Tour, 24 UMD students, staff, faculty, and community members traveled south during Spring Break 2014. UMD Chancellor Lendley C. Black will join the group in Memphis, Tenn. The group toured historical sites and met civil rights activists.
The trip immersed the group into the 1960s Civil Rights Movement as well as slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and related topics.
The group performed a Living History presentation for colleges and high schools where each person gave a speech as a civil rights leader. As the group passed historic sites, individuals shared the story of the person they have chosen to learn about. The leaders featured included Sojourner Truth, Daisy Bates, Septima Clark, Viola Liuzzo, Martin Luther King, Jr., Marion Wright Edelman, Autherine Lucy, Madame C.J. Walker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, Diane Nash, Stokely Carmichael, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Cesar Chavez, and others.
The bus crossed the Tallahatchie River, in Mississippi, where 13-year-old Emmitt Till was murdered for whistling at a white woman.
In Biloxi, Miss. at Beauvoir, the last home of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, the story of Mary Elizabeth Bowser was told. Bowser was a black slave who pretended to be illiterate in order to spy on Davis and feed secrets to the Union.
A visit to the Freedom Summer and Civil Rights strongholds University of Southern Mississippi at Hattiesburg, the COFO headquarters in Jackson, and Tougaloo College near Jackson, offered a rare look at the students who made history in Mississippi during the 1960s.
In Holmes County, Miss., Civil Rights leaders from this Delta region told their stories and in Memphis, the Slavehaven Underground Railroad museum was immensely informative.
At the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, the life and story of Martin Luther King, Jr. was told, complete with the opportunity to see where King spent the last few hours before he was assassinated in 1968. The museum presented a comprehensive history of the American civil rights movement, beginning with the African slavery trade and ending in the present. The final stop on the trip was at the Dred Scott memorial in St. Louis, Missouri.
Several of the students are taking the course for credit, and John Arthur, UMD professor in the African and African American Studies program joined the group as a leader. Additional trip leaders from UMD include Chris Davila, Mary Cameron, Betty Greene, Kaohlee Vue and Cheryl Reitan.
Reitan, who has been to Mississippi twice before, collaborated with Sue Sojourner on the book, “Thunder of Freedom,” which is about the group of people in the Mississippi Delta who helped elect the Robert G. Clark, the first African American, to the legislature in 1967. The concept of the trip originated when Zelpha Montgomery Whatley gave a Civil Rights history presentation at UMD in spring 2013 and invited UMD students to Mississippi.
The trip was sponsored by the Black Student Association and the Office of Cultural Diversity.