Twenty-two Abilene Christian University students and five faculty members have a new appreciation for the hard-fought civil rights of Americans as they wrap up a tour of historic sites across the American South.
Their seven-day bus trip across Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana is being recounted in an informative blog written by Dr. Richard Beck (’89), associate professor and chair of psychology, as the ACU Freedom Riders visit dozens of locations where history was made and blood was shed as citizens of the United States wrestled with race relations between whites and blacks in the 1950s and ’60s.
“This year, 2011, marks the 50th anniversary of the first Freedom Ride,” writes Beck. “Setting out to test compliance with desegregation in interstate commerce, the original Freedom Ride left Washington, D.C., on May 4, 1961, and was scheduled to arrive in New Orleans on May 17. It never reached its destination, facing mob violence in Alabama and Mississippi.”
The ACU group met and visited with James Zwerg and Dr. Bernard Lafayette, two of the original Freedom Riders, in Montgomery, Ala. Zwerg is a retired minister who lives in Arizona. Lafayette is distinguished senior scholar-in-residence at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.
“Find an issue in life that you are willing to die for,” Lafayette said Thursday as he challenged students to consider the impact of their lives. “We’re all going to die. The question is, are we going to live?”
Along the way, the ACU group toured historic sites such as George Washington Carver Museum, Southern Poverty Law Center and the Civil Rights Memorial in Tuskegee, Ala.; Kelly Ingram Park and 16th Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.; the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church (where Martin Luther King Jr. was pastor) and Parsonage, and the Rosa Parks Library and Museum in Montgomery, Ala.; the Mason Temple, National Civil Rights Museum and Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tenn.; and Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas.
Other ACU faculty members accompanying the group are Dr. David Dillman (’70), professor of political science and director of the Jack Pope Fellows Program; Dr. Jennifer Dillman (’85), assistant professor of sociology; Dr. Paul Morris (’66), professor of physics; and Karen Hendrick (’65), assistant professor of library science. Award-winning photographer Willis Glassgow joined the tour in Montgomery, and some of his images are seen here.
Students include Brandon Bolden, Rebecca Hipes, MaryLynn Kemp, Alvina Scott, Cha’ronn Williams-Devereaux, Kimberly Berry, Mary Delaughter, Jeremy Foo, Kevin Goodpaster, Michael Jones, Chase LeBlanc, Hart Mendenhall, Jared Perkins, Tony Rolof, Jennifer Watson, Dylan Brugman, Christina Burch, Rebecca Dial, Thomas Guest, Lauren Harp, Brittany Partridge and Theron Smentek.