Civil Rights Road Map

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Follow us along our route – we’ll be adding pictures, oral histories, reflections and more from the road. Click on pins in the map to see what we’re up to. For a more in-depth view of our trip and the highlights included here, we invite you to read more on this blog.

In May 2012, The Girls’ School of Austin’s 8th grade will embark on an eight day civil rights road trip through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. We’ve spent the past two months studying the civil rights movement in our 7th/8th grade Humanities class, and this is our chance to see some of the places we’ve learned about and meet some of the people we’ve talked about in person.

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Images from the road

For a compilation of pictures from our 2012 civil rights road trip, check out our Flickr album here.

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Rims Barber on creating change

An excerpt from our interview with Rev. Rims Barber. Conducted May 20, 2012 at Barber’s office in Jackson, MS.

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Thank yous from Boston to Birmingham

Our 2012 Civil Rights Road Trip wouldn’t have been possible without help from many people all across the country:

In preparing for the trip, GSA teacher and advisor Frances Ramberg helped lead our discussion of “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” She also introduced us to her mom, Mary Ramberg, who spoke with our class about civil rights activism in Mississippi in the 1970s. Before we departed, Jayne Guberman provided invaluable guidance on how the girls might prepare for their oral history interviews. She also introduced us to the amazing Carol Wise, who toured us through New Orleans, offering her insights on how issues of class and race affected the city’s recovery from Katrina. Thanks to Ronald Lewis at the House of Dance and Feathers for allowing us to visit his museum and educating us about the Mardi Gras Indians and the history of the Ninth Ward.

In Jackson, Rev. Rims Barber and Judy Barber kindly agreed to an interview for our oral history project and also put us in touch with many of the people we ended up visiting. Dr. Daphne Chamberlain, from the COFO Civil Rights Education Center, spent almost a full day with us, showing us around the city, introducing us to COFO, and educating the girls about civil rights history in Jackson. Before our visit, Dr. Robert Luckett, director of the the Margaret Walker Center, provided us with many helpful contacts. Once in Jackson, Dr. Luckett graciously provided us with an impromptu tour of the museum and even let us visit the vault that houses the archives. Dr. Stuart Rockoff and his wife, Susan, hosted us for dinner and the girls loved meeting their daughters and roaming the neighborhood catching fireflies with the “girl gang.” Many thanks also to Minnie Watson for hosting us at the Medgar Evers Home Museum.

In Montgomery, Judge Myron Thompson was extremely generous with his time, participating in our oral history project and showing us his courtroom. Thanks to Sheila Carnes for her fantastic tour of the courthouse and to David Owens for arranging the details of our visit. A special thank you to Jean Zachariasiewicz for setting up our visit to the court and for her many excellent suggestions about what to do and who to see in Montgomery.

One of the most memorable events of our trip was our conversation with Lisa Ann Williamson of Teaching Tolerance at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Many thanks to the SPLC’s Lecia Brooks for arranging our visit there.

Georgette Norman, director of the Rosa Parks Museum on the campus of Troy University, was supposed to meet us briefly before we toured the museum. She ended up spending a full hour with us, leading a wide-ranging conversation that gave important context to our understanding not just of the museum but of civil rights issues in general.

Finally, thanks to everyone at the National Center for the Study of Civil Rights and African-American Culture at Alabama State University, especially Gwen Boyd, who arranged our visit there. Thank you to Rev. Robert Graetz and Jeannie Graetz for speaking with us about their courageous work during the Montgomery Bus Boycott and afterward.

In Birmingham, Laura Anderson provided us with a useful tour of the archives at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Thanks also to Catherine ConnorAlan Head and Waights Taylor, Jr., for their suggestions and for their contacts in Birmingham.

Our visit to Memphis wouldn’t have been nearly as meaningful without Dr. Laurie Green at UT-Austin, who provided us with tons of great ideas and contacts there. Thanks to Laura Helper-Ferris for meeting with us at The Arcade to talk about the intersection of race and music in Memphis, and for introducing us to Tad Pierson and American Dream Safari.

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Rims Barber remembers Freedom Summer

Rev. Rims Barber looks back on his first impressions of Mississippi. Barber first came to the state in 1964. He and his wife, Judy, spoke with us on May 20, 2012 at their office in Jackson, MS.

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Judge Myron Thompson on why diversity matters

This interview was conducted May 22, 2012, in Judge Thompson’s chambers in Montgomery, AL.

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Judge Myron Thompson on being black at Yale in the 60s

Luiza interviews Judge Myron Thompson about what it was like to be black at Yale in the mid-1960s. Here, he describes transitioning from an all-black to an all-white environment. The interview was conducted May 22, 2012, in Judge Thompson’s chambers in Montgomery, AL.

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American Dream Safari

American Dream Safari

To get a feel for Memphis and to learn more about the intersection of race and music, we hopped into Tad Pierson’s 1955 Cadillac for his amazing American Dream Safari. Our conversation touched on everything from the changing demographics of Memphis to the role of blues and rock & roll in making whites more receptive to the civil rights movement to why Elvis was bullied as a kid. We’ll post pictures from the ride, as well as more pics from our other travels in the coming days.

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Harder for Abby to breathe…

Harder for Abby to breathe...

On a tour of Sun Studio in Memphis, Abby reacts to the news that Maroon 5 had recorded in the very room where we were standing. Interestingly, she was not making this face moments before when she learned that Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison had also recorded in this spot.

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Caroline on “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

At the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the girls read a passage from Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Caroline, who had read the letter previously while studying Birmingham for her research paper on the 16th St. Baptist Church bombing, wrote about her impressions of the piece:

A mural at Alabama State University depicts Dr. King and other modern civil rights leaders.

“Letter from a Birmingham Jail” was a handwritten letter by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., written in the Birmingham jail. Dr. King was arrested for leading a march, and this letter was written April 16th, 1963 from his cell. When he was first arrested, he was refused the right to an attorney and put in solitary confinement. He was soon able to call his attorney and was bailed a few days after.

During his time in the jail, he wrote this letter in response to clergymen complaining that this ‘wasn’t the right time’ and ‘to wait for a while.’ The clergymen were telling him and the rest of the activists that the marches and other civil rights actions should be put on hold. This topic had been brought up by other clergymen in the past who wanted to let up on the pressure aimed at the segregationists. This brought up hostility and defiance from the civil rights activists and much of the black community. Dr. King agreed with his fellow black activists, and so he decided to reply to this complaint out of the hundreds he received daily. In his letter, he talked about why he, and many other activists, choose to use nonviolent direct action. Most importantly, he tells the clergymen what exactly his words sound like on a black’s ears.

Kelly Ingram Park, Birmingham, AL. May 23, 2012.

To me, I believe that people like these clergymen are similar to a devil hiding behind a mask. They seem as though they have good intentions but whether they are aware of it or not they can become the real enemies of the civil rights movement. They are the ones that whisper doubts into your ear and fill heads with little ideas of doubts, conspiracies, and loss of faith in trusted allies.

Now, the anti-civil rights people do this constantly, trying to get the strong group to fall apart by sticking at the heart that binds everyone together. The problem with people like the clergymen is that they are on your side, so they should be trusted. That isn’t always true, so Dr. King made that obvious to the public with this letter. Don’t let off the pressure because the other side sure as hell won’t.

Stopping the marches, sit-ins, etc. would show the segregationists that [the civil rights activists] weren’t as strong or determined. By not stopping they took a step toward desegregation. Even with a small break the racists would be getting ahead of them. They can’t trip up or take a break. They have to keep going.

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On nonviolence

Throughout our trip, the girls have been learning about and thinking about nonviolence. In Birmingham, they wrote about what nonviolence is, how it was used in the modern civil rights movement, and if they could see themselves taking part in nonviolent protest:

Captioned “I ain’t afraid of your jail,” this sculpture in Kelly Ingram Park commemorates the 1963 children’s marches in Birmingham, during which many children were arrested and jailed for marching against segregation. 

Reflection by Abby: Nonviolence is when you do not use violence as a tactic and when violence is inflicted upon you, you do not react. In the civil rights movement many groups used this tactic to show people [through the media] what was really happening, and who was right versus who was wrong.

SNCC, CORE and the Freedom Riders were three examples of groups who used nonviolence. CORE and SNCC provided special training in nonviolence and other useful tactics. Also, children were educated in these classes. In one instance, Diane Nash was arrested for teaching these skills and educating children who would march or do other protests.

If it were me I think I would be really scared at first and taking the training courses would be nerve-wracking. I think if I had people to back me up, though, then I would be more motivated and stronger. Being me, I think just the anticipation and knowing what could happen to me could be my downfall.

I would be nonviolent because it shows that I am the more wise one in the fight, instead of lashing out and being violent. I would have strategy and intelligence: two characteristics that would be very useful backing up my devotion for whatever battle for rights I would be involved in.

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