12 students traveled to Selma, AL, over spring break in order to experience the history of the Civil Rights Movement. The trip lasted for six days and included visits to other historical cities along the way.
“We decided to take an alternative Spring Break trip and look at and investigate the Civil Rights Movement and put a contemporary lens on it,” said Director of the Center of Intercultural Life Tianna Cervantes, who came up with the idea for the trip.
The trip was funded by an alum after Cervantes wrote a proposal after learning that Western Illinois University and Augustana College take their students on a similar tour. Each student was required to give a $100 deposit and attend five discussion sessions focusing on race and identity issues.
According to Cervantes, only 12 students applied for 14 available spots. Despite the low enrollment, she plans on continuing the program next year.
“If we’re able to find the funding next year,” Cervantes said. “I would like to partner with a professor to teach a more content-oriented class to go along with it before they go on the trip.”
“I applied to this trip because I was pretty ignorant about the Civil Rights Movement,” junior Alex Kellogg said. “I wanted to get a larger context outside of the 10 year window that we tend to think of it as. It’s really an ongoing process.”
The 12 students agreed that their education failed to teach them about specific aspects of the Civil Rights Movement. Even at Knox, many of the students believe that their history classes only covered the most general aspects. Some also wanted to see how today’s activism can learn from the movement’s successes.
“I decided to join this trip because our education fails us when we’re learning about people of color,” junior Leslie Macias said. “I wanted to learn about the social movements that happened in order to learn about the social movements we have now. I also feel like there are so few opportunities to jump in head first with history.”
The first day involved driving to Memphis, TN., where they visited the Ernest C. Withers Collection, a museum with many photographs from the Civil Rights Era. On the second day, while still in Memphis, the students visited the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The motel now holds the National Civil
“I was really impressed with this museum,” sophomore Sasha Gurzakovic said. “It really broke everything down. It was just so overwhelming the amount of stuff you learn. When you learn about this in class you hear the same five names, but the amount of people who did little things to further the movement was just crazy to see.”
From there, on day three, the students traveled to Montgomery, AL, where the students walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The bridge is famously known as the site where non-violent protesters were attacked by police as they attempted to march to Montgomery from Selma.
“This was a very emotional day,” said senior Sidney Talbot. “Just walking over this bridge and knowing that people were beaten and people died … I was just struck.”
Gurzakovic mentioned how the site made her reflect on voting in today’s context.
“People died and they knew they were going to die,” said Gurzakovic. “They were willing to die for the right to vote and to be treated like a human being … Our right to vote as people of color wasn’t just given to us. People died for us to have it … it really made me think about what it means to go to the polls and cast my vote.”
On the fourth day of the trip the students attended a tour of places where slaves were bought and sold in Montgomery. They also toured the Rosa Parks Museum as well as the church where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached before becoming the face of the Civil Rights Movement. On the fifth and final day of the trip, the students briefly visited Tuskegee, AL.
“I feel like often times as a child when you learn about the civil rights movement, people get out of it that ‘segregation is bad,’” sophomore Niky Washington said about what she took away from the experience. “It’s really about how due to segregation black people were not treated like human beings. It’s not exactly segregation that we’re fighting, but that we’re treated as less human.”