Day 7: Abilene

0 Commentsby   |  05.21.11  |  Announcements

And so we turned toward home today, leaving Jackson for Abilene.

In Dallas we dropped off the Pope Fellows and Dr. Dillman who will be studying in the Metroplex this week. Before breaking up our group we gathered in a circle, held hands, and sang “We Shall Overcome.” After a prayer the rest of us got back on the bus and headed for Abilene.

We arrived in Abilene safely. After hugs all around I got in the car and started the drive home.

It was an odd sensation. For seven days I had been immersed–heart, soul and mind–in a single decade, the ten years from 1955 to 1965. From Rosa Parks to the Selma to Montgomery March. And now, suddenly, I was back in Abilene in the year 2011.

In the quietness of the car I thought back over the week with my mind lingering over the faces of the twenty-two students who came with Jennifer, David and I. How to sum up our experience together? My mind drifted back to the passage I read in Selma commemorating the Voting Rights March:

Joshua 4:21-22
And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’

What do these stones mean? That’s what we tried to do. Pass on the history, as best we could, to the next generation. To Brandon, Rebecca, MaryLynn, Alvina, Cha’ronn, Kimberly, Mary, Jeremy, Kevin, Michael, Chase, Hart, Jared, Tony, Jennifer, Dylan, Christina, Rebecca, Thomas, Lauren, Brittany, and Theron–the ACU Freedom Riders.

ACU Freedom Riders with Bernard Lafayette--Original Freedom Rider

ACU Freedom Riders with James Zwerg--Original Freedom Rider

Day 6: Selma and Jackson

0 Commentsby   |  05.21.11  |  Announcements

We woke up today reading Bernard Lafayette’s New York Times piece The Siege of the Freedom Riders. It’s somewhat surreal to think that yesterday while the world was reading Dr. Lafeyette’s NYT article we were meeting with him in person in Tuskegee!

It was also nice to see our trip on the ACU Today blog.

After breakfast we checked out of our hotel and said good-bye to Montgomery. What an amazing time we had in this city.

Leaving Montogmery we got on Selma to Montgomery Historic Trail. This was the highway the marchers walked during the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March.

The origins of the Selma to Montgomery march start in the years between 1961 and 1964 when the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had been intensively engaged in voting registration efforts in Selma, the seat of Dallas County, Alabama. SNCC was running into fierce resistance. To energize their efforts SNCC made an appeal to King’s SCLC in 1964.

On February 18, 1965 the voting rights activists lead a peaceful night march in nearby Marion. The marchers were met by police. Suddenly, the street lights went out. Just why no one really knows. In the darkness the police got skittish and began beating the protesters. Twenty-six-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson ran way from the melee with his mother and grandmother. They were pursued by some Alabama State troopers. In a cafe where they sought refuge, the police caught Jackson’s 82 year old grandmother and knocked her to the floor. Seeing this, Jackson jumped in front of his mother to protect her. Jackson was then shot twice in the gut by one of the troopers. He died eight days later.

The activist community was outraged. Some suggested that they should walk Jackson’s coffin all the way to Montgomery and lay it on the capital steps. Cooler heads prevailed, but the idea of a march on Montgomery stuck and began to take form with the focus to be on voting rights, the reason why the activists where in Selma in the first place.

On March 7, 1965 about 600 marchers, lead by (now congressman) John Lewis, set out from Selma to march to Montgomery. The first thing they had do was to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

On the far side of the bridge waiting for them was a wall of state troopers set upon breaking up the march (in compliance with orders from Governor Wallace). The troopers set upon the protesters with clubs and tear gas, pursuing the fleeing marchers back up the bridge. Many of the troopers were on horseback and wielding clubs, swinging at the marchers running on foot. Those witnessing the event claimed that the bridge was covered with blood, thus the day is known as “Bloody Sunday.”

John Lewis and marchers facing off with police before the violence breaks out

Lewis and other marchers being beaten on Bloody Sunday

In the wake of Bloody Sunday King and his supporters sought federal protection for the marchers. On March 16 the protection was granted and on March 21 the marchers set out again. This time, with federal protection, they would get all the way to Montgomery. More, the ranks of marchers had swelled. After Bloody Sunday thousands of people from around the nation descended upon Selma to participate. By the time they reached the steps of the capital in Montgomery the crowd had swelled to over 25,000.

Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March

Our day in Selma began at the National Voting Rights Museum.

National Voting Rights Museum

After visiting the museum the ACU Freedom Riders made their own walk over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, tracing the route of the Bloody Sunday marchers.

Starting the March

Crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge

Cresting the bridge.





After walking the bridge we drove over to Brown Chapel where all the mass meetings were held and where all the marches began.

Brown Chapel--Central Headquarters for the Movement in Selma

After lunch in Selma we got on the bus to head toward our last stop: Jackson, Mississippi.

Arriving in Jackson we were hosted for dinner by Hollis Watkins at his Southern Echo offices. Mr. Watkins was a SNCC worker in Mississippi in the 1960s working on voter registration. Mr. Watkins was a close ally of Bob Moses, one of the leaders in organizing Freedom Summer.

Sitting around the dinner table, Mr. Hollis shared stories of his childhood under segregation, of his early SNCC work, of his times in jail and, most importantly, of how his work with Southern Echo is continuing on with his movement work.

Also, Mr. Watkins is known for his singing. So we spent some time tonight singing freedom songs.

It was a wonderful way to end our trip. For two reasons. First, we’ve all been so immersed in Freedom songs this week that you now frequently hear someone on the bus humming to themselves “We Shall Overcome” or “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize.” I think the music of the movement has gotten into our bones. And our hearts. So singing with a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, someone who sang these songs in churches and in jails, is a fitting conclusion to our trip.

Second, Mr. Watkins’ current work with community organizing and voter redistricting reminded us that “the movement” isn’t just dusty history. The work Mr. Watkins began with with SNCC 50 years ago is still his passion. There is more, much more, work to be done. And Mr. Watkins challenged our Freedom Riders to participate.

The struggle continues…

Day 5: Legends, Heroes and Martyrs

0 Commentsby   |  05.19.11  |  Announcements

Today we woke up for our second day in Montgomery, Alabama. After meeting James Zwerg the day before we felt the trip really couldn’t get any better. But guess what?

It did.

As always, our day started off with all of us eating breakfast in the hotel.


Kevin and Hart

After breakfast we drove to historic Tuskegee University, founded by Booker T. Washington and home to George Washington Carver. We stared off going to the George Washington Carver Museum on the Tuskegee campus.

George Washington Carver Museum

You know what I discovered about George W. Carver today? That he was amazing! He was a painter. A geologist. A botanist. A master teacher. He could knit, cook, and prided himself of being able to iron a crease in a lady’s skirt. He even made paints from the minerals found in the local soil so that poor people could paint their homes inexpensively. He even made the equivalent of color strips so that poor rural farmers could pick colors for the roof, walls, and trim that would create a pleasing combination. Yes, everyone knows what George W. Carver did with the peanut. In fact today I purchased his monograph “How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it for Human Consumption.” But George W. Carver was so much more than that. He was true Renaissance man.

After the museum we drove over to the Tuskegee Multicultural Center. And there our day exploded into something truly amazing.

At the Center our speaker was none other than Dr. Bernard Lafeyette. What an amazing surprise! (It wasn’t totally unexpected. We knew there was a chance we might get to meet with Dr. Lafayette, but we didn’t think it would happen. So we were really delighted to find him waiting for us.)

If you don’t know, Dr. Bernard Lafayette was everywhere during the Civil Rights movement. He, along with Diane Nash, James Bevel, and John Lewis, were leaders in the Nashville sit-in movement. Dr. Lafayette was also integral in the formation of SNCC (the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee), considered to be the “shock troops” of the movement. Dr. Lafayette was also a Freedom Rider, on the very same bus with John Lewis and James Zwerg that was attacked in Montgomery. Dr. Lafayette was also a key leader in the voting rights drive in Alabama, with a particular focus on Selma. After Bloody Sunday, the attack on marchers on the Edmund Pettis Bridge, the work of Dr. Lafayette and others finally pushed President Johnson to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Finally, Dr. Lafayette was a close associate of Martin Luther King Jr., helping, in 1968, Dr. King organize the Poor People’s Campaign. In fact, Dr. Lafayette was with Dr. King in Memphis the day before his assassination. The day of the assassination Dr. Lafayette had gone back to Washington to keep working on the Campaign and was planning to return to Memphis. Planning to return, he had kept the key to his room in the Lorraine Motel. His room was downstairs from Martin’s. But after hearing of the assassination Dr. Lafayette had no reason to return Memphis. He still has that key from the Lorraine Motel.

Currently, Dr. Lafayette is a world leader in non-violence, leading and organizing training in non-violence around the world.

So you can see why we were so excited. Two of the original Freedom Riders in as many days!

Like James Zwerg, Dr. Lafayette talked a great deal about non-violence as a lifestyle. Some within SNCC saw non-violence as a “tactic,” a means rather than an end. But like Martin Luther King Jr., Dr. Lafayette sees non-violence as a way of life, the only path to achieving peace in the world. King’s last words to Dr. Lafayette were, “Bernard, we need to find a way to institutionalize and internationalize non-violence.”

Dr. Lafayette shared a ton of stories, mainly about his work in Selma, but my favorite story of his regarding non-violence had to do with jail and ice-cream.

Dr. Lafayette told our students that one of the principles of non-violence is learning to listen to and understand the person oppressing you. As Dr. Lafayette said it, “Listening. That’s a practice of non-violence.” He also said, “Understanding. You stand under the person.” Summarizing he said, “In non-violence what we try to teach is looking through the eyes of the other person.”

The story Dr. Lafayette told to illustrate these concepts went like this. In one of the jails he was in Dr. Lafayette and the other jailed activist struck up a friendship with the jailer on the night shift. As Dr. Lafayette noted, “He was just doing his job and we were doing our job.” Initially, the activists simply entertained the night jailer with their singing. There was a lot of singing in the jails by the movement activists. As James Zwerg said the day before, “Singing was how we communicated with each other in jail. How we knew each other was okay.”

While the night jailer enjoyed the singing he was struggling with some issues related to his daughter. She was about to graduate and apply to college. But the night jailer hadn’t gone to college. So he knew nothing about college applications and admissions. But guess what? All those singing activists were college students. Maybe they could help. So the jailer asked for help. And Dr. Lafayette and the others talked to him about financial aid, the application process, letters of recommendation, etc. And each morning, after his shift, the jailer would go home and pass on the advice to his daughter.

To show his appreciation the jailer began smuggling ice-cream to the activists. To prevent outrage among the other prisoners the jailer would put the ice-cream in a mop bucket and put the mop over it. He would then push the bucket past the other cells until he got down to the activists where the ice-cream was unloaded. For Dr. Lafayette this little story captured the power of non-violence, of two people finding shared humanity in the other. Summing up the story Dr. Lafayette said, “For some in the Movement non-violence was a tactic. For us it was a way of life. Ice cream! That’s what I’m talking about!”

What an amazing experience. In our two days in Montgomery we got to be with James Zwerg and Bernard Lafayette.

Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Civil Rights leader and activist, with ACU Freedom Riders

ACU Freedom Riders with Dr. Bernard Lafayette

ACU Freedom Riders with Dr. Bernard Lafayette

Before our departure for lunch Dr. Lafayette concluded with this challenge to our students:

“Find an issue in life that you are willing to die for. We’re all going to die. The question is, are we going to live?”

After lunch, before leaving campus, we took a quick tour of Booker T. Washington’s house The Oaks.

The Oaks--The Home of Booker T. Washington

One of the interesting things about The Oaks and much of the Tuskegee campus is that the bricks were made on the campus by the Tuskegee students. I joked with the students that brick-making is the next summer class we’re going to try at ACU. They weren’t amused.

We left Tuskegee and traveled back to Montgomery to visit the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Civil Rights Memorial. The SPLC is actively involved in monitoring hate groups and prosecuting hate crimes. The Memorial associated with the SPLC is oriented around 40 Martyrs of the movement. The martyrs include Emmett Till, the four girls from the 16th Avenue Church bombing in Birmingham, the Freedom Summer workers–James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner–and Martin Luther King, Jr. Outside the SPLC there is a memorial fountain where the names of the martyrs are listed along with significant moments in Civil Rights history. It was a powerful walk through our entire Freedom Ride Tour: the Little Rock Nine, the Memphis sanitation worker’s strike, Rosa Parks, the Montgomery bus boycott, the Freedom Rides, the Birmingham riots, the bombing of 16th Avenue Church, Bloody Sunday, the shooting of Medgar Evers, the Selma-to-Montgomery Voting Rights March, the March on Washington, and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Theron at the Civil Rights Memorial

Finally, inside the SPLC, as a part of the Civil Rights Memorial, there is a Wall of Tolerance. If you’d like to add your name to the wall, with the thousands who have done so, you take the following pledge:

By placing my name on the Wall of Tolerance, I pledge to take a stand against hate, injustice and intolerance. I will work in my daily life for justice, equality and human rights – the ideals for which the Civil Rights martyrs died.

Day 4 Experiences

0 Commentsby   |  05.19.11  |  Announcements

In addition to meeting James Zwerg, Day 4 in Montgomery was packed full of other powerful experiences.

Before meeting James we started the day at the Greyhound bus station where the attacks occurred against James and the other Nashville Freedom Riders.

Greyhound Bus Station where the Nashville Freedom Riders were attacked

ACU Freedom Riders at the Greyhound Bus Station

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Rides, the Montgomery Historical Society is turning the bus station into a museum. The museum opens tomorrow, but the Society was kind enough to let us in a bit early. The museum was about 90% ready, which allowed some ACU Freedom Riders the chance to help get the actual Freedom Rider museum ready!

After our time at the bus station we went over to the Embassy Suites to meet and visit with James Zwerg.

After our visit with James we went to the Dexter Avenue Church, the church Martin Luther King, Jr. preached at during the Montgomery bus boycott. Dexter was King’s first church.

ACU Freedom Riders in Dexter Avenue Church

After touring the church we visited the Dexter Parsonage, the home of the King family during their time in Montgomery.

ACU Freedom Riders going into the King's home

A highlight of visiting the parsonage is the King’s kitchen.

The whirlwind of events surrounding the boycott had largely caught King unawares. When he went to Dexter King was mainly looking for a quiet place to finish his dissertation and, perhaps, move into a life as a college professor after a stint in the ministry. King was an intellectual, and he wanted to lead a quiet academically-oriented life.

But then Rosa Parks happened and he found himself, as the newcomer in Montgomery (all the other pastors had too much water under the bridge with each other), elected President of the Montgomery Improvement Association. By accident, fate, or providence King found himself at the center of the advent of the Civil Rights movement.

But then the death threats started coming. Threats on his life and his family’s. Slowly the fear began to overwhelm this academically inclined 26 year old. He really hadn’t signed up for this.

Around midnight on January 27, 1956 the parsonage phone rang. King answered it and heard a low voice say: “Nigger, we’re tired of your mess. And if you aren’t out of this town in three days, we’re going to blow up your house and blow your brains out.”

Shaken, King tried to go to back to sleep. His wife and 10 week old baby girl, Yolanda, were asleep nearby. But King couldn’t rest.

So he got up and went to the kitchen where he made himself some coffee. Something in the voice on the phone scared him. This call wasn’t a mere threat, it was serious. And King was rightly worried about his baby girl getting killed. Or getting killed himself and leaving her fatherless.

As the coffee brewed and the fears pressed in King sat at his kitchen table and prayed:

“Lord, I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”

And in that moment, sitting at his kitchen table, King had the most profound experience of his religious life. In the middle of that dark kitchen, alone and scared, King heard an “inner voice” speak to him:

“Martin Luther, stand up for truth. Stand up for justice. Stand up for righteousness. God will be at your side forever.”

And with that assurance, King’s fears lifted. His courage returned. And in that moment he firmly committed his life to the path of Civil Rights, even as his house was indeed bombed three days later. No matter, God had called him and he had answered.

Our final stop of the day was the Rosa Parks museum. The museum is run by Troy University and is built on the location where, on December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat, the event that made her the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Day 4: Freedom Rider

0 Commentsby   |  05.18.11  |  Announcements

One of the reasons I’m attracted to the Civil Rights movement is the heroism. The heroism of the Freedom Summer volunteer, walking the dusty roads of Mississippi. The heroism of Rosa Parks, refusing to move from her seat. The heroism of Martin Luther King Jr., finding God at midnight in his kitchen after receiving a bomb threat. The heroism of the children of Birmingham, marching downtown to face fire hoses and police dogs. And the heroism of the Freedom Riders, who signed their last will and testaments before getting on the bus.

I know these stories. I’ve read the books, watched the documentaries, and gone to the museums. But rarely do you get a chance to meet the heroes.

Today we did.

Today was a day I’ll never forget. One of the great days of my teaching career (and I’m sure David and Jennifer would agree).

Today the ACU Freedom Riders got to meet James Zwerg.

In the summer of 1961 the first Freedom Riders started off in Washington, DC planning to drive through the South to New Orleans. Along the way they planned to test the recently passed legislation desegregating interstate transportation, both on the buses and in the bus stations.

Things went smoothly until they met a mob in Anniston, Alabama. At the Greyhound station a mob attacked the bus and slashed its tires. The bus raced out of town west on Highway 78 toward Birmingham. The mob followed in cars and trucks. A few miles outside of town the bus broke down and the driver ran off in panic. The bus was firebombed and the passengers badly beaten. The riders faced even more violence when they arrived in Birmingham. Feeling they had brought enough attention to the cause, the shaken riders stopped the ride, finishing the journey by taking a plane from Birmingham to New Orleans.

This outcome didn’t sit well with many of the college students in Nashville who were veterans of the Nashville sit-in movement. So a group of these students vowed to finish the Freedom Ride, to get all the way to New Orleans on a bus. Schooled and trained in the methods of nonviolence, their reasoning was simple: Violence cannot have the last word. We have to ride. Even if we die. We have to ride.

So they signed their last wills and testaments and got on the bus. They saw the pictures of the Anniston attack. They knew what lay ahead.

One of those riders was a white college student named James Zwerg.

Driving toward Montgomery the Nashville Freedom Riders were protected, at the request of the Kennedy administration, by Alabama state troopers. The plan was for the state troopers to escort the Freedom Riders to the city limits of Montgomery. There the troopers were to hand off the protection to the Montgomery city police.

But no police appeared. And none waited for the riders at the bus station. The bus pulled into an ominously deserted station. The riders instinctively knew something was wrong. Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Rides, CNN published this week a profile of James Zwerg. The article tells what happened next:

The mob was already waiting for James Zwerg by the time the Greyhound bus eased into the station in Montgomery, Alabama. Looking out the window, Zwerg could see men gripping baseball bats, chains and clubs. They had sealed off the streets leading to the bus station and chased away news photographers. They didn’t want anyone to witness what they were about to do.

Zwerg accepted his worst fear: He was going to die today.

Only the night before, Zwerg had prayed for the strength to not strike back in anger. He was among the 18 white and black college students from Nashville who had decided to take the bus trip through the segregated South in 1961. They called themselves Freedom Riders. Their goal was to desegregate public transportation.

Zwerg had not planned to go, but the night before, some students had asked him to join them. To summon his courage, Zwerg stayed up late, reading Psalm 27, the scripture that the students had picked to read during a group prayer before their trip.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I fear?” the Psalm began.

God seemed to answer James’ prayer. From later in the article:

After he stepped off the bus, Zwerg says, the crowd grabbed him.

In “Parting the Waters,” Taylor Branch wrote that the mob had swelled to 3,000 people and described what happened to Zwerg: “One of the men grabbed Zwerg’s suitcase and smashed him in the face with it. Others slugged him to the ground, and when he was dazed beyond resistance, one man pinned Zwerg’s head between his knees so that the others could take turns hitting him.”

Yet in the midst of that savagery, Zwerg says he had the most beautiful experience in his life. “I bowed my head,” he says. “I asked God to give me the strength to remain nonviolent and to forgive the people for what they might do. It was very brief, but in that instant, I felt an overwhelming presence. I don’t know how else to describe it. A peace came over me. I knew that no matter what happened to me, it was going to be OK. Whether I lived or whether I died, I felt this incredible calm.”

James, along with many many of the Freedom Riders on the bus, including John Lewis, was brutally beaten by the mob. James, being white, as a particular focus of the mob’s anger and violence. The pictures of James’ bloody face became iconic images of the Civil Rights movement:

John Lewis and James Zwerg after the attack in Montgomery

"I asked God to give me the strength to remain nonviolent and to forgive the people for what they might do." --James Zwerg

Today, our students got to spend an hour with James Zwerg. James shared the story of how he got involved in the Civil Rights movement and about how he felt the gospel was calling him to a life on nonviolence.

“Nonviolence has to be a way of life. It can’t be an on-or-off switch. You have to commit your life to nonviolence.”
–James Zwerg, May 18, 2011, to ACU Students

James also told us the story of the 1961 Freedom Ride. About the trip, the attack, and the aftermath. Interestingly, he doesn’t have any recollection of his famous hospital interview.

"No matter what happens, we are dedicated to this. We will take the beatings. We are willing to accept death. We are going to keep coming until we can ride anywhere in the South." --James Zwerg

You rarely get to meet your heroes. Today we did. It was a profoundly moving experience to see James talk, laugh, and share with our ACU students. Challenging them to live a life shaped by the gospel.

James Zwerg talking with ACU Freedom Riders

James Zwerg visiting with the ACU Freedom Riders

ACU Freedom Riders and James Zwerg

After most of the students had had their moment with James I introduced myself, thanked him, and asked if he would autograph a book. He signed it simply:

James Zwerg–Freedom Rider

Day 3: Birmingham

2 Commentsby   |  05.17.11  |  Announcements

On Day 3 of the ACU Freedom Ride we woke up in Birmingham, Alabama.

Our day started at Kelly Ingram Park, site of one of the most dramatic confrontations in the Civil Rights movement where fire hoses and police dogs were used on the protesting children.

Fire hoses turned on children in Kelly Ingram Park

Our day, while sobered by the events in 1963, was more joyful. We started by gathering for a group photo:

ACU Freedom Riders in Kelly Ingram Park

Becca and Hart in Kelly Ingram Park

Tony, Jeremy, Rebecca, Brittany, and Jared in Kelly Ingram Park

There is a circular Freedom Walk around the park which features a variety of interpretive statues about the events that transpired in the park:

Statue in Kelly Ingram Park

After some time in the park we walked across the street and toured the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

After lunch we gathered on the steps of the 16th Avenue Baptist Church:

ACU Freedom Riders on the steps of historic 16th Avenue Baptist Church

This church is famous for staging the Birmingham protests. The marchers and protesters would gather inside, hear sermons and sing freedom songs prior to heading outside where they would meet fire hoses and police dogs.

Inside the 16th Avenue Baptist Church

The church is also significant in Civil Rights history for a bombing on September 15, 1963 which killed four girls: Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair.

Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair

Outside the church there is a memorial to the four girls:

Alvina, Cha'Ronn, and Jennifer at the Memorial

Once again, it was an emotional day. But joy as well. For example, Mary brought me a MoonPie!

Tomorrow: Montgomery

Day 2: Memphis

0 Commentsby   |  05.16.11  |  Announcements

We woke up today and drove to the National Civil Rights Museum, a bit worried about getting there as we discovered that President Obama was in Memphis to give the graduation address at Booker T. Washington High School. There was word that streets downtown were going to be blocked off for security reasons. But we got to the museum with no problem. (However, one of our Freedom Riders, Kim, did run into one of the Booker T. Washington graduates later in the day, still in his graduation robe. He was buzzing about having met the President earlier in the day.)

ACU Freedom Riders outside the National Civil Rights Museum

The National Civil Rights Museum is attached to the former Lorraine Motel where on April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot on the balcony of Room 306.

The Balcony of Room 306

After a very emotional time at the National Civil Rights Museum we walked to historic Beale Street–Home of the Blues!–for some lunch.

ACU Freedom Riders eating on historic Beale St.

After lunch we got back on bus to head toward Birmingham. However, before jumping on the highway Theron asked if we might go by the historic Mason Temple where Dr. King delivered his last sermon, the famous Mountaintop Speech. We drove over to the church but the doors were locked. However, the security guard drove up and we explained who we were. And guess what? Not only did he let us in, he gave us the most wonderful tour! All the students got to stand in MLK’s final pulpit:

MLK's Final Pulpit

It was a powerful moment for many students to stand in that place.

After getting shown around the sanctuary we all stepped back outside while our guard/guide locked the doors behind us. Unfortunately, two Freedom Riders were still inside:

Alvina and ChaRonn locked in the church...

You’ll be glad to know we did get them out.

After visiting the site of Dr. King’s final sermon we headed off to Birmingham. We got here just in time to watch the PBS special.

Some scenes from the road:

We think a sleepy Freedom Rider was underneath.

Dr. Beck playing "We Shall Overcome" badly. Dr. Morris unimpressed.

Kim and Tony showing off the Freedom Ride t-shirts

Tomorrow: The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Kelly Ingram Park, and the 16th Street Baptist Church

One final note. Keep the City of Birmingham in your prayers. Driving into the city we saw some truly shocking damage from the recent tornadoes.

Day 1 Experiences

0 Commentsby   |  05.16.11  |  Announcements

The ACU Freedom Ride got off at 7:00 am this morning, with the West Texas sunrise reflected in the windows of our Trailways bus, some sleepy Freedom Riders on the inside,

Sunrise on the Windows

and our bags packed away for the trip.

Loaded up and ready to go...

After picking up some students in Dallas we headed for Little Rock, taking some time to go over the syllabus. We arrived in Little Rock and drove to Little Rock Central High School

Little Rock Central High School

where we stood on the steps of the school…

Freedom Riders at Little Rock Central High School

and talked about the courage of the Little Rock Nine.

Dr. Jennifer Dillman lecturing at Little Rock Central High

A poignant discovery was to find a reflection pool in the front of the school surrounded by nine benches, each inscribed with the name of one of the nine students: Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed, and Melba Pattillo Beals:

Little Rock Nine and Daisy Bates

Across the street we also wandered through a memorial devoted this moment in Civil Rights history.

We left Little Rock and headed for Memphis. All of us were a bit sobered and speechless crossing the Mississippi River, which, due to the recent flooding, no longer looked like a river but like a huge, sprawling lake.

Up Tomorrow: The National Civil Rights Museum, The Lorraine Motel, Beale Street, and the drive to Birmingham!

ACU Freedom Riders at Little Rock Central High School

Day 1: Little Rock

0 Commentsby   |  05.12.11  |  Announcements

Little Rock Central High School

Day 1 of the ACU Freedom Ride starts in Abilene, TX at 7:00 am on May 15, 2011 with our departure from the Williams Performing Arts Center. Almost 50 years to the day of the first Freedom Ride.

Our day ends, twelve hours later, with our arrival in Memphis.

On our way to Memphis we stop in Little Rock, Arkansas at Little Rock Central High School where in 1957, in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, the Little Rock Nine bravely challenged segregation and hostile crowds. The nine students were escorted into the school for an entire year by federal troops.

The Little Rock Nine