Wabash Blogs Immersion 2009: Expressive Culture -

March 23, 2009

At the Spur of the Moment

Reginald Steele ’12 - Being a native of the south, I know a lot of history of all the blood, sweat, and tears that has been shed for my freedom. Leaving the south, I reflected several events that were not on the itinerary. I learned more from the events not planned because it happened at the spur of the moment. The southern hospitality is a priceless value which the African-American Rhetoric Class experienced during our one week adventure.
                Upon arriving to Selma, Alabama, a small family of four ladies asked our group to attend a Reenactment Museum, where all of us became the unexpected actors and actresses. “Get against the wall, niggers!” is what we heard from a female officer. She became the authoritator using the n word several times as used back in the days of slave auctions. She once responded, “All white niggers step forward!” It intimidated the white people in our group and they didn’t step forward so she said it louder and nastier to grasp the attention of all of the white people. She told us to shuffle through the door and some students began to march. She then began to get nastier and call them dumb and stupid n words as recited in the days of segregation. Once the slave trade began, we were made to sit on a boat made for eight people, however all fourteen of us sat on the boat as slaves were made to sit on for months going to country to country. This Reenactment Museum gave our group a firsthand experience on how slaves were treated. The way we were treated was dehumanizing and painful. As I was called the n word numerous times, I felt the pain of my forefathers when they were sprayed by water hoses and bitten by dogs. 
                Upon arriving to Birmingham, Alabama we walked through the Kelly Ingram Civil Rights Memorial Park and a man by the name of Reginald Sanders stopped us and gave us a civil rights tour. He gave us a quiz and the history of the park ambitiously. He questioned the young generation, “Do you really appreciate what was done in the past for your freedom?”   I personally reminisced the past to see if I truly appreciated it. I wouldn’t be able to go through the struggles that my forefathers went through because violence where used frequently throughout these movements. I appreciate what they went through because they have been the foundation for my future without the chains of ignorance and segregation. 
                This trip taught me new things that I had never experienced before in my last eighteen years of living in the Deep South. I learned an old school rap in Montgomery, Alabama that says, “Don’t push me because I’m close to the edge, I’m trying not to lose my head!” A radio host by the name of Lady Freedom remixed the song by saying, “Don’t trap me set me free!” I have learned to appreciate the traps of my forefathers because it has left me free today.

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March 16, 2009

Reflections

Gary James ’10 - During spring break, my classmates and I have traced the steps of the civil rights movement from Selma, Alabama to Memphis, Tennessee. We have marched the Edmund Pettus Bridge with civil rights leaders. We have visited museums, which chronicle the civil rights era and events. We have traced the steps of  a movement decades-long, following the same steps of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Abernathy, and Rosa Parks. We visited King’s house in Montgomery which was bombed while his family was inside. We could still see the crater on the porch. We visited various churches, including the one King, for a time, called home. At the Rosa Parks Musuem, I realized how much of a movement the civil rights decades were. They coordinated their efforts like a campaign, and the unity of the members of the movement was essential.
            In Memphis, the last stop on our long journey, we traced King’s last steps during his short but full life. We visited the National Civil Rights Museum, which is made from the Lorraine Hotel, where King was assassinated in 1968 in room 306. We museum follows the progress and setbacks of African-Americans since they arrived in the Americas. It was an appropriate cap on a long and educational trip.
            Not only was the trip educational because of its descriptions of the civil rights era, but because of its use of primary resources as relevance to rhetorical studies. I was moved most by the video, photographs, and documents, which depict all the positive and negative aspects of the civil rights movements. I was appalled and perplexed by an interview of some citizens of Birmingham, Alabama who were asked about prejudice in their city. They responded by recounting all the good things that had been done for African-Americans. These good things included being civilized by their captors. It was incredible, but seeing and hearing it was what left an impression.
            At the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Birmingham, I saw visual elements that I would describe as rhetorical. On the outside of the Center, there is a memorial with dates on it made by the same person who made the Vietnam memorial. It obstructs one’s path to the entrance of the center. It forces itself on visitors, acting almost like segregation protestors. On the inside, the exhibits function as symbolic action, enlisting visitors in the cause of the South Poverty Law Center, which locates and litigates against hate groups. One of my favorite parts of the center is a room, which asks for people’s names. When you enter it, it asks you if you are committed to fighting hate and supporting equality. If you agree, it adds your name to a long list of others. The names randomly appear on a large black screen. It functions both as an aesthetically pleasing and ideologically persuasive exhibit.
            Our trip though the American South had a profound affect on us. We heard about some of these events from general history, but the reality of struggle and sacrifice and success of the civil rights movement and tactics and patience and strength is something that should be seen by one’s own eyes. It makes a difference.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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March 14, 2009

An Appreciation for the Present

Kendrick Tucker ’11 - Just when we students thought there was very little civil rights history left for us to learn, we traveled to Birmingham, AL to visit the 16th Street Baptist Church.  There, we learned of the four little girls that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as the "angels of change."  Their story was told through a brief video and an actual demonstrator of the time, who set up the picture of the tiring times.

While still in Birmingham, we visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which proved to be one of the most interesting and information-filled museums thus far.  Filled with videos, audio sections, computer tours, timelines, and civil rights memorabilia, the museum held so many detailed accounts of the movement in the south, ranging from Virginia to Tennessee to Alabama.  With KKK robes, stereotypical advertisements, and racist cartoons all on display, I was forced to take a long look at my own life and realize how fortunate I am to be in the position that I am in: a free African American male.

 


Finally, after seeing many on the historic sites that Birmingham has to often, we ate at a soul food restaurant, where collard greens and canned yams seemed to be the food of choice by many of the noble Wallies that are on the trip.  Afterwards, we headed back to our vehicles and prepared for our trip to my hometown: MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE! This is the last leg of our southern tour, and I'm sure it'll prove to be a great one.  While many will naturally assume that King Elvis will be front-and-center, I'm sure my city has so much more to offer, including the National Civil Rights Museum and the site where Dr. King was assassinated.  Can't wait.

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March 12, 2009

Old Alabama Town and Alabama State

Andre Adeyemi ’12 - Old Town Alabama Museum was our first stop of our day. This museum was different because it was more interactive in the fact that we were able to walk through different houses of the 19th century and interact with characters of that time period. While on the tour we visited a woman’s home, a cotton gin, a plantation house, and a church. After that we all split up and met back to pay Alabama State University here in Montgomery.
While on the campus we received a tour of all the major facilities. Much like Wabash the Greek scene on campus is very overwhelming. Many of the Black fraternities and sororities have their own rock or spot on campus where decorate in their fraternities colors much like the bench at Wabash behind Center Hall. Instead of eating on campus we went to a local pizzeria where and although we did not receive the best service we had very good pizza. The visiting of Alabama State University was the end of the days scheduled activates, but later that evening Professor Timmerman, Gary James (fellow student), and I went back to Alabama State University to hear Jeff Johnson (a BET political commentator). Although I did not agree with his view points I think he is a very clear and deceive speaker. I cannot wait for the rest of the trip!
 
 

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Welcome to Montgomery

Stephen Kleitsch ’11 - Today involved a plethora of cultural experiences that shook my understanding of what racism and equality meant. Since this morning, our class has toured five unique places. Each had it's own story, interpreter, and effect on my worldview that is really impossible to quantify or describe. So, instead of giving a recap or some in-depth analysis, I will give the best description of what happened that had significant to me. At the end of today, the single event that has tied together all other elements and made this trip a life changing was the guide at the King's house.
        To set the scene, we visited the Dexter Ave. Baptist Church. This is where the Reverend King was pastor, where the mass meeting that started the bus boycott sparked by Rosa Parks, and where modern Civil Rights movement was born. But none of that really had the 'immersion' feel that I want to talk about. Sitting in King's seat and standing at his pulpit did not seem earth shattering and significant.
        We moved on to King's home where we met the tour guide Shirley Cherry, a woman who was alive during this time period and old enough to remember. We started our tour... to be blatantly honest this part was boring. The crater where dynamite thrown by the K.K.K. exploded in front of King home, the dining room where the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was born, and the original furniture throughout did not effect my world view about equality.
        The kitchen that's where it happened if I had to pin point it. Yea, that's where King prayer over a cup of coffee after a death threat and had an epiphany, God told him to stay and he would be with him. Now is where it got real to me. When Ms. Cherry told about her childhood. She had grown up with her parent telling her that when she walked, always to look at her shoes, because of what happened to Emmit Till, and never make eye contact with a white. That was when I realized she had been looking into my eyes since we started the tour. At that point, I began to realize what this history meant to her and those countless others that I have seen thus far. No amount of reading of the horrors of the era or examining images will be able to give the personal tie that this experience gave.

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March 11, 2009

A Day of Learning

Josh Raspopovich ’11 - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Booker T. Washington are just some of the historic people we learned about today on our immersion trip to the South.  This whole experience has been very eye opening for all students of our African American Rhetoric and Expressive Culture class, whites and blacks alike.  I believe today was especially important to our understanding of the struggles that African Americans endured throughout the history of the United States.  The first eye opening experience our class had today took place in the Rosa Parks Museum. Here all 10 students and both Professors Lake and Timmerman went back in time on a bus similar to the one Rosa Parks made her stand in.  We learned about the bus boycott in Montgomery, AL, started by Rosa Parks and led by MLK.  The impact this boycott had on the bus business was immense with the company losing over $3000 every day.  This was mainly because 75% of their customers were black. 
Our next destination was the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church where MLK actually preached.  We saw the very pulpit where MLK gave sermons to his congregation every Sunday.  Also in the basement of the church was a beautiful mural depicting the struggle Dr. King endured during his fight for equality.  Our next destination directly ties in with the historic background of MLK being that we visited the Dexter Parsonage Museum where King and his family lived for 5 years.  Here we got to experience the bombing of their front porch and received insight as to what Dr. King was confronted with and how he overcame this adversity.  We also saw the very same furniture such as couches and beds that the King’s sat and slept in.  This was a very surreal experience for all of us, imagining King in this house just 60 years ago, pacing in the very rooms we stood in.
 
We got this same feeling of euphoria at the Civil Rights Memorial Center.  Here we saw a memorial created by architect Maya Lin that honors those who died during the Civil Rights Movement and serves as a medium for education and reflection about the struggle for equality.  This circular monument had water flowing from the middle descending down to the ground.  Also engraved in it were the names of 40 people who gave their lives for the cause.  Inside the Memorial Center we saw pictures of many people who had died during this time period, from little children to full grown men.  Also we all submitted our names, as well as Wabash College and the Malcolm X Institute, onto a digital cascading wall that showed all the names of people who stood for equality and supported the Civil Rights Movement. 
These entries will forever be in the database, noting that Wabash College and its students support the fight for equality.  Our experience on this trip has been a priceless one and has taught us not to stand for any type of generalizations or bigotry.  We know that we must stand for what is right and continue to fight for equality for all citizens regardless of race, sex, or creed until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

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An Interesting Day

Victor Nava ’10 - As I considered today’s events, I assumed that they wouldn’t be as “interesting” as those on the previous days of our immersion trip. (I mean, how do you beat having your picture taken with Al Sharpton?) However, as I write this blog, I realize that today was a day of reflection which brought all of the previous events I have been a part of into clear perspective.

Today, we said “goodbye” to the city of Selma and arrived in Montgomery, Alabama. We also wrapped up our involvement with the Jubilee Celebration by covering our final event: a reenactment at the steps of the Alabama state capitol building.  Many children from the central Alabama region (and even a school from Vermont) arrived in Montgomery and sat on the steps of the capitol building to sing the “freedom songs” sung by the people who originally marched across the Edmund Pettus bridge back in 1965 on their way to Montgomery. As I was taking pictures, I took a brief second to look out into the audience and realized the amazing scene that was taking place before me. As a student interested in pursuing a career in education, I was very touched by the scene of all these kids singing songs that sparked an entire social movement. It dawned on me that kids are the lifeblood of any social movement and I was very sure that these kids would do an amazing job in keeping the fight for equality alive.

I guess that’s what this trip (at least thus far) has been about. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been told, made to read, and watch videos about the civil rights struggle of the 1960’s. Even at Wabash, I’ve taken a couple of classes that focus on the African American cultural experience. However, I realize now that I never really “understood” what the entire movement or culture was about. It’s one thing to read about or study social movements, it’s a whole other thing to live and experience it. After celebrating the events of the past, today I saw the children who will continue the struggle into the future. This trip has really done lots to open my eyes and give me a full experience of not just the African American culture, but of the actual struggle and oppression (as well as hope and optimism) that an entire group of people had to go through.

After this event, we were “free” for the rest of the day and I (along with my roommate Gary James) decided to do some exploring around the city of Montgomery before dinner. We began by seeking out the bus terminal and take a ride on a Montgomery city bus. Though it sounds kind of silly, this is the only bus ride that has actually caused me to think about something other than the place where I am trying to get. We have come a very long way from the days of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

We concluded our day by meeting up with Cleo Washington who addressed the entire group and discussed topics ranging from his job with AT&T, politics, economics, and (of course) life at Wabash. I always enjoy listening to alumni reflect on their Wabash days and give us current students advice on making it through our own journey at the school. It kind of brings this whole experience back full circle to the school that sent us here in the first place. I can’t wait to see what places we visit tomorrow.

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