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Leadership Fellows journey to Deep South to learn civil rights history

Visits to Birmingham, Selma and Atlanta culminated with Elon students meeting Martin Luther King III, the oldest son of the slain civil rights leader, and King III's wife, Arndrea Waters King.

Sophomore Elon Leadership Fellows met in January with Martin Luther King III and his wife, Arndrea Waters King, during a visit to Atlanta.

By Olivia Zayas Ryan '18

Twenty-six sophomore Leadership Fellows traveled to Alabama and Georgia in January for an in-depth look into the Civil Rights Movement as a culmination of their Winter Term course "Nonviolence and the Civil Rights Movement."

The students were accompanied by course instructor Associate Professor Frances Ward-Johnson in the School of Communications and Dana Carnes, associate director of the Center for Leadership.

Before embarking on the journey, students read and discussed “Cradle of Freedom: Alabama and the Movement that Changed America” by Frye Gaillard, “The Informant: The FBI, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Murder of Viola Liuzzo” by Gary May, and “Why We Can’t Wait” by Martin Luther King Jr.

The readings introduced Leadership Fellows to pivotal events and places as well as unknown foot soldiers who contributed to the movement.  

"This class opened my eyes to the deeper information about the Civil Rights Movement,” said Ginna Royalty, a strategic communications major from Zionsville, Ind. “By visiting the places where historic events occurred, I felt more connected to the history behind it. The trip added a sense of depth to our class readings."

In Alabama, students toured the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and Kelly Ingram Park. The institute contained exhibits that took students through the years of the movement, from bus boycotts to sit-ins to human rights issues of today.

Kelly Ingram Park is the place where Birmingham Police Commissioner Bull Connor infamously tried to stop a children’s march by unleashing police dogs and spraying marchers with water hoses. The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church is the place of a memorial for four young girls who were killed in a 1963 bombing by the Ku Klux Klan.

“Our journey was definitely an emotional one, filled with feelings of disbelief, sorrow and hope,” said Drew Adair, a marketing major from Wayne, Pa. "As an inspiring leader studying the Civil Rights Movement, journeying to the Deep South showed me that the strongest leaders are never afraid to challenge the status quo and push for a better tomorrow.”

Students tour the State Capitol in Alabama (photo by Elon Leadership Fellow Devon Spieker)

Students also traveled to Selma to tour the National Voting Rights Museum & Institute as well as the Slavery and Civil War Museum. They were able to experience walking through history as they marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, site of the Bloody Sunday March on March 7, 1965.

“From this class, I’ve realized just how important it is to be able to see things from others’ perspectives,” said Gabby Vance, a political science major from Severna Park, Md., “and how important it is to me for other people to be able to see things from my perspective. It truly is the key to cherishing others.”

The group visited Montgomery, where they toured the Alabama State Capitol, the Rosa Parks Museum and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Civil Rights Memorial. The trip concluded in Atlanta where they toured the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolence and Social Change and attended services at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, which MLK Jr. had co-pastored with his father.

After church service, students met Martin Luther King III, King’s oldest son, and his wife, Arndrea Waters King.

It was quite moving after an entire term studying the movement, its leaders and visiting key historical sites to arrive in Atlanta to visit the gravesite of Dr. King and then meet his son,” Adair said. “I felt as if we, as leadership fellows, had reached a crossroads - we had seen and studied the leaders of a movement before us, and now we had to ask ourselves: ‘What would we do as leaders to make this world a better place?’ ”

Closer to home, students also visited the Greensboro International Civil Rights Center and Museum as part of their studies.

Royalty added the most important part of the journey for her was realizing civil rights issues are still prevalent today.

“Our fellows’ class became motivated to keep these conversations going on Elon's campus because they are so important and relevant still," she said. 


Eric Townsend,
2/4/2016 9:00 AM