A trip to the south that seems like an odd place to take a group of high
school teenagers during their April Vacation. Still, everyday walking through
the hallways at school, the bright yellow flyers advertising such avoyage
never failed to catch my eye. Eventually, I stopped to read. In a nutshell,
the flyer read, screw Europe and travel your own country. We had just
finished studying the Civil Rights Movement in class, and frankly, I was sick
of hearing about the states most thoroughly involved in the movement.
Furthermore, I had no desire to visit such states during my vacation. Lucky
for me, a few friends persuaded me to inquire about the in famous south trip.
After I gathered all the necessaryinformation, there was only one thing that
stood in between me and Dixieland..my parents.
I will neverforget the day I came home from school and asked my parents if I
could go tothe Deep South on the school trip. Mydads response, Why would
you want to go there? sparked a greater desire forme to be a part of the
journey (it must have been that teen rebel thing showingup again!). After a
few days of my momand dad discussing the idea, they reluctantly decided to
let me go. My dad, who grew up in a Puerto Ricanneighborhood in the South
Bronx, is not exactly the most open-minded person Iknow, and I understood his
reluctant attitude towards the trip. Lucky for me, however, he put his
ownbeliefs aside and paid the money so I could go. From then on, there was
not a day that went by that I did notthink about the upcoming trip.
Asdeparting day quickly approached, I had mixed feelings about
the trip. Overall, I was excited, but I felt a bitnervous about traveling to
a greatly different culture and also a bit sad thatI was not going to be home
for my last April Vacation with my friends. Yet, I was still anxious for
April 15thto arrive, and finally, it did.
Wemet at school on Easter Sunday at 2:15 in the afternoon. At
this point I could not wait to escape theboring town of Sudbury and finally
experience something new and different. As I boarded the bus with my
friends, I somehowknew that there was no way that I would return from the
trip the exact sameperson I was leaving as. Excitementoverwhelmed me as we
drove away from the school.
Myfirst impressions of the south came relatively soon after we
landed inMemphis. A few friends and I decided toget a meal at Chilis. We
ordered ourfood and patiently waited for it to arrive. We waited, and we
waited; we waited some more, and then after we weredone waiting, we waited
even longer! Nolonger were we among the uptight, demanding, time-crunched
people of the north,but among the laid back, easy going, good-natured people
of the south.
Thenext morning, we arose early and drove to the Lorraine Motel,
the site of Dr.Martin Luther King Jr.s assassination. The motel was gutted,
except for two rooms, and transformed into themost amazing Civil Rights
Museum. As Iwalked through, the words of our tour guide captivated me.
Sometimes, when studying history, I find itdifficult to associate myself with
the people of the specific time period I amcurrently studying. Being in
thismuseum made me feel like I was a Civil Rights Worker, fighting for my
rights,as well as the rights of thousands of others. The end of the tour
showed the two un-gutted rooms of the motel. One was the room that Dr.
Martin Luther Kingusually stayed in while visiting Memphis; the other room
was the room that MLKhad stayed in on his last visit to the motel. The latter
room has been kept in perfect condition, exactly how MLK leftit before he was
killed. As I peeredthrough the Plexiglas, chills ran up and down my spine.
The idea that a man so heroic and famous inmy mind stood in the very place I
was standing and died in a spot I was merelyten feet from was shocking to my
Luckily,after the emotional trip to the Lorraine Motel, we were
off to Graceland. That was an experience within itself! First, we went to
the mansion. It is absolutely beautiful. When you first drive up, it does
not lookbig at all from the outside and then you go inside and it is
absolutelyenormous. They give you a Walkman, andyou go on a personal tour of
the house. After studying the influence that he had on rock and roll and
theAmerican population as a whole, it was incredible to see many of his
greatachievements, such as his gold and platinum albums displayed with such
highhonor. We also saw his private jet, theLisa Marie. I would have
loved totravel to Tennessee on that!!!
Thenext day we traveled to Clarksdale, Mississippi, the place
where the blueswere born. We went to a Blues Museumwhere we learned about
the history of the blues, listened to various bluesmusicians and saw
paintings, guitars and other memorabilia from famous bluesartists. Before we
attended thismuseum, I knew almost nothing about the age of Blues but
reflecting back on theexperience now, I realize that I learned more than I
can imagine during thelimited time we were there. The womanwho spoke to us
was authentic and captivating. For me, she really brought the blues home.
Then we went to a place called a juke joint. It is a place where people
go to hang out,listen to music, have a good timebasically one big party.
Afterthe blues, we went to a place called Hopson Plantation. It
is not in working condition now, but allthe old buildings and houses are
there. For me, it was shocking to see the slaves shacks. Imagining that an
entire family lived inthose tiny houses is truly amazing. Theman who owns
the plantation is a professional junk collector and inside one ofthe main
buildings there is tons of the most random stuff on the walls. It did get a
little scary though becausethere were confederate flags everywhere. At one
point I had to use the bathroom, so I went and there were pictures all over
the wall. There was one picture of the man who owns the plantation in a Ku
Klux Klan outfit. It was very strange to see something likethat.
Next,we drove to a small town called Mound Bayou. The town was
built and is currently run by black members of thecommunity. I think it is
astonishingthat through the struggles that the black population endured
during slavery andafter, they were still able to build their own home and
maintain it for overone hundred years. While we were there,the mayor of the
town spoke to us. Hegave us the entire history of the town and it was
surprisingly interesting. When we first arrived, it was unclear to mewhy
Mound Bayou was a significant place, but within ten minutes of hearing
theMayor speak, the reasons became quite clear to me. Sitting inside the
city hall, I could feel the strength and prideof the people who lived there
permeating the walls.
Thenext part of our voyage was the reason I enjoyed my week in
the south somuch. We met with a man named HollisWatkins. He was one of the
originalfreedom singers from the Civil Rights Movement. He was an incredible
speaker. He described his experiences at the demonstrations during the
movementand how they personally affected him. Before we even got off the bus,
I did not really want to goI washungry, tired and not looking forward to
another lecture. As we walked in and sat around in thetight-knit circle
of chairs Mr. Watkins had set out for us, I had a feelinginside my stomach
that this talk would be different. Immediately after he started speaking, I
knew that feeling wouldhold accurate. He started by telling ushis personal
history and about the many demonstrations he attended. Then, he made us all
stand up and for aboutforty-five minutes, while we sang freedom songs,
holding hands. It was one of the most intense feelings Ihave ever had in my
life. Standingthere with some of my best friends, sharing something so
special and sosignificant sent chills down my spine. I loved every minute of
the two hours we were there, and it was wellworth getting off the bus for!
Afterall this history stuff we had been exposed to, it was time
for a littlefun! We went to New Orleans!!! I have never been in such a fun
city. I am officially jealous of everyone who goesand is going to school
down there. Anyway, we had an awesome time. We ate in French cafÃ©s and
shopped for about four hours in the tinyshops on the side streets. Such
atypical girl way to spend the afternoon!!!
Thenext three days of the trip were my favorite (aside from
Hollis Watkins). We went to Philadelphia, Mississippi, wherethree civil
rights workers were pulled off the road, brutally beaten andmurdered. We
spoke to the man who wasthe editor of the newspaper at that time. Never in my
life have I been so intrigued by someone who spoke soslowly. He told us his
personally storyand understanding of what happened and how the community
reacted andresponded. Later in that same day, wewent to Meridian,
Mississippi to visit the grave of James Chaney, one of theworkers who were
killed. A man spoke tous at Chaneys gravesite, and while he was talking, it
was the first timeduring the trip that I felt the need to kneel down and say
Thenext day, we were in Selma, Alabama. First, we walked across
the Edmund Pettus Bridge. As I watched our group walk in two lines,
side-by-side,I could not even begin to imagine the horror that had occurred
there not evenforty years ago. I began to questionmyself as a person,
wondering if I had lived during that time, would I have thestrength to do
even half of what many before me had done? Honestly, to this very day, I
cannot yetanswer that question.
After the bridge,we went to the National Voting Rights Museum. The woman who
spoke to us while we were there had such an effect on theentire group and me.
She had a way of makingher point without saying much. Forexample, when we
were sitting down in the room with the photographs of thefamous women and she
was asking the girls what we wanted to be, it started tohit me that once
upon a time I could not be what I wanted to be. I would not have the money,
the intelligence or the opportunity to pursue my goals. That really scared me,
and I thanked God for giving me the opportunityto grow up in an age that I
can be what I want to be, and not what someone elsewants me to be.
After Selma, wewent to Birmingham. While there, wevisited the 16th Street
Baptist Church, where four little girls werekilled in a bombing set by the Ku
Klux Klan. We saw a movie (cant remember the name) that truly touched
myheart. I began to wonder what theselittle girls could have accomplished
had they lived. It made me sad for their death, yet I rejoiced for the
shortlives they had lived. After the church,we went to the Civil Rights
Museum in Birmingham, which I found to be prettymuch the same as the Lorraine
Motel museum in Memphis. After the museum, we walked through the parkacross
the street. It wasincredible. As you walk through, youexperience the
different horrifying events that occurred in Birmingham duringthe Civil
Rights Movement, such as the police dogs, the water hoses, childrenbeing
thrown in jail etc.
The last day wasmy eighteenth birthday so it was rather special. First we
went to the site of Martin Luther Kings Grave, and thechurch where he and
his father were once reverends in. Then we went to Atlanta and had an
awesometime. We shopped, again, went to theCoca-Cola museum and went to the
Hard Rock CafÃ©. It was a very relaxing way to end a very intense trip.
Ironically, as wetoured the south expecting to learn about history, we
realized that it was nothistory, but merely part of the present, and the only
difference is that ithappened a few years ago. What I meanis that while we
were learning all these new and exciting things, the samehistory we were
learning about was changing right before our eyes. While we were in
Birmingham, the jury wasbeing selected for the trial of a man accused of
being involved in the bombingof the 16th Street Baptist Church. Soon after we
came home, one of the men involved in the murder of thethree civil rights
workers died from a freak accident. While we were in Mississippi, there was
avote held to change the state flag, considering it had a portion of
theconfederate flag STILL on it. The ideathat history is forever changing
really became clear to me upon reflecting onmy journey.
Overall, myjourney to Dixieland drastically changed my perspective on life.
Thinking about the thousands of peopleinvolved in the movement, what they
were fighting for, like I said before, itmakes me question the strength of my
being. I cant help but wonder what I would do if I were put in ANY of
thesituations that black Americans encountered during the sixties. Also, how
much of my will to fight wouldhave deteriorated once Dr. Martin Luther King
Jr., the leader of the CivilRights Movement, was assassinated. True, he was
killed towards the end of the Movement, but many continuedto fight for what
they believed in. Thetrip also made me think a lot about death. About two or
three days into the trip, it was becoming crystal clear tome the number of
people who died fighting for their rights. At night, I started having
intensenightmares where I was one of the thousands fighting for my civil
liberties andI was killed doing so. These nightmaresmade me stop to think
about the things that I call tragic in my life. How could I be so
ignorant and naive to worry about petty things, such as having enough money to
buy my new prom dress,or get my hair done at the salon, while people were
suffering and fighting simply to be able to live.
The last thing that I took away from the trip, though may seem insignificant
to others isthis: when I was a little girl, my father made it a point to make
clear to me that a handshake is worth a thousand words and that shaking
someones hand in one of the highest honors a man (or woman in my case) can
receive. Why didI think of this in the south? While wewere in the Voting
Rights Museum in Selma, the man who spoke to us, (I cantremember his name
now for the life of me!), captivated me. He was so involved with Martin
Luther Kingand the Movement; I found him and his actions astonishing. Not to
mention that after fighting for hiscivil liberties, he got on with his life
and became the superintendent of thepublic schools in Selma. After he
wasdone speaking, I walked right up to him (even though my heart was beating
athousand beats per minute), put out my hand, told him how inspiring and
honestI found him to be, shook his hand and thanked him for taking the time
out of his busy schedule to talk to us.
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