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Leadership Fellows take civil rights tour through Deep South

The Winter Term course "Disarming Injustice: Nonviolence and the Civil Rights Movement" included visits to the 16th Street Baptist Church and the National Voting Rights Museum.

Twenty-seven sophomore Leadership Fellows toured the South this winter as part of an Elon University course on nonviolence and the civil rights movement.

Under the direction of Associate Professor Frances Ward-Johnson in the School of Communications and Steve Mencarini, director of the Center for Leadership, "Disarming Injustice: Nonviolence and the Civil Rights Movement" took students to historical locations in Alabama and Georgia.

“This course and trip was truly one of the greatest educational experiences that many of us have ever been blessed to receive,” said Dionna Stanton, a public health studies major from the class.

Before departing, Fellows spent two weeks engaging in discussions and reading books, including “Cradle of Freedom” by Fred Gaillard, “Eating Dr. King’s Dinner” by Chuck Fager and “The Informant” by Gary May.  Students also attended the memorial service for Greensboro Four civil rights leader Franklin McCain Jr. at N.C. A&T State University and visited the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro.

“Our trip was a life-changing experience that I will never forget,” said social entrepreneurship major Jensen Roll. “I don't think there could be a better way to learn about the Civil Rights Movement than to meet the people who were a part of it and visit the places where they fought for their rights.”

The Fellows traveled to Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery and Tuskegee, Ala., and then to Atlanta. They visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum, the 16th Street Baptist Church (site of a bombing that killed four girls) and Kelly Ingram Park (site of Bull Connor’s violence against children). In Selma, they toured the Slavery and Civil War Museum and the National Voting Rights Museum and walked across the Edmund Pettis Bridge (site of Bloody Sunday).

“Walking arm in arm across the Edmund Pettus Bridge was the most moving part of our civil rights trip for me because it was the moment where I felt connected to those who suffered and sacrificed unselfishly for the movement,” said Katherine Sims, an accounting and entrepreneurship major.

On their way to Montgomery, the students traveled the route used by King and hundreds of protesters during the Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights.

In Montgomery, the students stood at the Alabama State Capitol where King made a famous speech pressing for voting rights, which happened to be the same spot Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as president of the Confederacy. They also toured Dexter Avenue Baptist Church Parsonage (where King lived with his family), the Rosa Parks Museum and the Civil Rights Memorial and Southern Poverty Law Center, where speakers told about today’s injustices and racism they fight to combat.

Students also visited the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, which details the story of the first African-American military pilots known as the "Red Tails."

In Atlanta, the Fellows toured the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Site, which included the King Center and Freedom Hall, grave site of Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King Jr., and the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, site of King's funeral. Students also attended church services at the new Ebenezer Baptist Church.

“This experience gave me a new lens in which to view the world around me and beyond,” said psychology major Marisa Pareti. “It was such a privilege to have this opportunity, and it has grown to be a responsibility to share what it has meant to me.”

- Information submitted by Associate Professor Frances Ward-Johnson

Eric Townsend,
2/18/2014 3:45 PM