The Civil Rights Bus Tour and How It Permanently Altered the Way I View the People Around Me and the Culture We Live In
I’ve always been a bit of a history nerd. So much so that I had more than met the history requirements for my degree by the beginning of the fall semester. However, when Dr. Robert Clark asked if I would be interested in taking a night class devoted to the history of American civil rights, I saw it as more than another history credit. I knew that following the footsteps of history would not only change the conventional grasp that I had on American history but change the way I viewed the diversity of the body of Christ. I jumped at the chance, and every Thursday from 7-9:30 p.m., my heart and mind were slowly transformed.
I don’t think I know a lot of people who would disagree when I say racism is a polarized issue in today’s culture. So many times, as Christians, we choose to assume a position of neutrality in areas of controversy, but through this class, I learned that by not choosing to confront the bias in my own heart, I can miss so many opportunities to share the love of Christ. Many times, Dr. Patrick Oliver would remind us that, “the only thing that evil needs to prevail is good men who do nothing.” Until Christ’s return, believers have a responsibility to be His hands and feet, which means acting in light of His perfect salvation and eternal justice.
What the Civil Rights Bus Tour Is
The class was the first eight weeks of the semester and co-taught by Dr. Clark and Dr. Oliver. Both professors brought unique perspectives and knowledge on the history and implications of slavery and, later, segregation. Their wisdom helped me find a new perspective, which opened my eyes to injustice. This class helped me not only realize the importance of understanding the ways racism permeated the decades after the Civil War but how it affects the world today. The class met once a week, and by the end of the eight weeks, we covered over 200 years of history leading up to the civil rights movement. In a whirlwind of lecturing and class discussions, we saw the ways in which race ideology took its place as the land of the free’s greatest point of division.
Our class ended with a five-day trip following the path that trailblazers of the civil rights movement took in their pursuit of freedom. We essentially followed a “reverse” historical blueprint, beginning in 1968 with the location of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination and ending in the very church where his ideology came to life (circa 1955). Along the way, we watched documentaries and listened to lectures. I truly don’t think that anything could have prepared me for the immersion and emotions I experienced over the course of the journey.
On Friday, we arrived at the National Civil Rights Museum, formerly the site of the Lorraine Motel, which, in part, still stands today in Memphis, Tennessee. In the 1960s, the city was characterized as economically and racially turbulent, much of the reason why MLK felt he had to attend the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike in Memphis. King famously stated in his letters from a Birmingham jail that, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This museum was deeply impactful in that it helped me recognize the ways in which injustice fueled by hatred threatens us even today.
We spent day three, largely, in Birmingham, Alabama, visiting Kelly Ingram Park, the site of 1963 police protests and police brutality. There, we ran into a local Bishop who, at only 12 years of age, attended protests during the “Freedom Summer” of 1963. He represented persistence to me in a way that textbooks couldn’t. Despite the violence of those who sought to uphold the law during the civil rights movement, he persisted. The movement required something everyone has–faith. The importance of what we put our faith in didn’t escape me at this moment. This man’s faith was so evident, and as he led a nearby group in “This Little Light of Mine,” I was truly inspired by the faith and persistence that protesting local churches had during the movement. These people truly relied on Christ as their strength, and through Him, many became stronger and more unified throughout the decade.
Across the street from Kelly Ingram Park stands 16th Street Baptist Church, the site of the September 1963 bombing that killed four little girls. Dr. King delivered their eulogy a week later, putting them to rest with the words “Goodnight to those who represent a new day.” During our tour of the church, which still serves the local community, I couldn’t help but meditate on the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:40, when Jesus tells His disciples, “The king will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” It was so saddening to come face to face with the hatred that had a hold on radical racism, so much so that they would carry out an attempt of mass-murder against other brothers and sisters, especially under the guise of preservation of our “God-fearing country.”
We ended the day in Montgomery, Alabama, at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a tribute to the almost 5,000 (documented) lynchings that took place from 1877-1950. In the garden hangs 805 steel coffin-shaped rectangles. These fixtures name and represent each of the counties (and their states) where a documented lynching took place in the United States.
Sunday was our last full day of stops on our trip. We spent the morning in Atlanta at Atlanta Bible Baptist Church. This was such an impactful part of the trip for all of us. We had spent the whole weekend talking about the importance of unity in the body of Christ but going to church with the local believers in Atlanta truly put our words into action. The people at church were so welcoming and excited to hear what we had learned through our trip.
After church, and an outfit change, we finished our trip at the King Center in Atlanta. The King Center features a memorial to Martin Luther and Coretta King, and the nearby exhibition features items from their lives and fights for social justice.
Racism is a deeply embedded aspect of our culture. It infiltrates even the most neutral aspect of today’s world, and that is evident in the racially tense culture we have today. I think that we can still see the effects of slavery, and that is something that might only be completely healed by Jesus’ worldwide redemption. However, this trip gave me the priceless gift of a deeper understanding and longing for Christ’s redemption. This class was much more than a history recap; it revealed the ways in which I choose comfort over confrontation of racial hatred and violence of the past and present.
- Year & Major: Sophomore, Marketing
- Favorite Bible Verse: Psalm 18:2
- Favorite Class at CU: Civil Rights Bus Tour
Tags: #class, #MLK, #trip
Posted in: Education, Experience