After lunch on the bus from Tuskegee we arrive in Montgomery. We have been to two museums, a college tour and a tour of Booker T. Washington’s home so far today. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Civil Rights Memorial, The Children’s Museum and the Rosa Parks Museum lie ahead this afternoon.
Up at 6:00 this morning and in at 9:00 last night. Then we had to find dinner. This has been a typical schedule. The pace is fast. When we get on the bus, it begins with videos or freedom/gospel songs. We have a schedule and we meet it, but often not on time. If something new comes up, a speaker or a landmark, it gets added in. Although Dr. McCord has built in spare time, we do run over. 34 people plus visitors are a lot to demand military time from. We were supposed to get in at 5:30 today.
Finding a title for this section is difficult. I was looking something catchy like “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” But at the end of the trip, I realize that this bus is exactly what I prayed for in 1965 – a psalm to diversity. We are black, white, Chinese, married, and single.
“Fear is mastered through faith.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Today we skim along the highway in an air conditioned bus singing freedom and gospel songs under the direction of Edward, Gloria Jean and Khafre. Some sing, others talk, read, play Solitaire on their computers or listen to their iPODS. I think they miss the point of the songs we sing. These songs are the prayers and the symphony of the Civil Rights Movement – not just songs they might sing at camp. They are a form of Soul.
Tonight’s the night. The students of Professor Karen McCord’s Civil Rights Travel Course meet at the Sacramento airport at 9:00. Each of us is carrying goodies for the members of the group in case we get hungry (Delta provides pretzels, nuts or a cookie.) or in case we are stranded at the airport. According to Freedom Riders (the superb documentary at http://www.shoppbs.org/family/index.jsp?categoryld=11530506&ab=BSpot1CivilRights),the in 1961 the freedom riders who had been severely beaten by a white mob the day before in Birmingham, went to the airport to leave. They were met at the airport by the same angry mob. They had to walk through the mob to get to the plane. Ah safe, finally we get to relax. Bomb scare! And they had to walk back through the mob to the waiting room. The mob surrounded them and it looked like they would be killed before they could get into the air. “They were trapped in limbo. Trapped in a frightened state of limbo.” It took the arrival of John Seigenthaler, representing Attorney General Robert Kennedy, to get them on the plane safely. In our case, if we’re stranded, it will be because of a tornado, storm or other act of God. We’ll have to trust our safety to Him.
I just finished an interview with Jessica Bays. She is a reporter for the “Clarksdale Press Reporter” in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Clarksdale is the Birthplace and World Capital of the Blues in the Mississippi Delta. Lots of Blues musicians have called it home including Sam Cooke, John Lee Hooker, Ike Turner and Muddy Waters.
So why is this interview important? In 1965 the Mississippi Delta was a hell for civil rights workers and the local people who worked with them.
Did you see the “Freedom Riders”? It was extraordinary. Now imagine an eighth grade girl watching it in real time. I was shocked. I didn’t believe this could happen in the United States. But it did and I was watching people being brutalized. But I also saw people who were unwilling to let violence triumph over non-violence. Those people were my heroes and heroines. And, they were not only willing to take chances for what they believed in, they were smart. Alabama was a harsh nightmare, which is all the more poignant when we know that those folks wrote their wills before getting on the bus. Mississippi was a test of the Freedom Rider’s ability to out-think the officials of the state.
The plans for the Civil Rights Travel Course seem as fantastic to me as Cinderella going to the ball. The outline of the class inspires me. But the pieces I want to add are something else – that’s where the fantasy lies. I have contacted a newspaper in Anniston, Alabama, about an interview. I’m waiting for an answer. I have gotten an answer from the Atlanta Constitution Journal. The reporter said that, if the idea were approved, I might get an interview or get to write a column. I am waiting to hear from the Atlanta Inquirer. And I’ve contacted the Clarksdale, Mississippi newspaper. Monday I call them all to see where we are. Bettina, my pr expert, has her list of radio stations, newspapers and television stations in Atlanta and the other cities we will visit. Ever learn to write a press release? I know I hadn’t.
It’s been a loooong time since I’ve taken a college class. On May 4 I went to the orientation session for my Civil rights Travel Class in June. Some things have changed and some have not.
Professor McCord has a gentle way of welcoming students. This class was at four in the afternoon and she knew some students wouldn’t have dinner before their next classes. So, she provided a nosh to get them through: strawberries, cupcakes, chips and dip, water and sodas. This was not the typical class at Cal in the 1960s. But, there was no teargas at Solano either, so I guess many things have changed.
So why would a sixty-four-year-old woman choose to go to the American South in 2011 on a bus tour that lasts 9 days and visits four states? This is the explanation of the trip, ”
Individuals of all ages and cultures will enjoy this course. Students who attended in 2009 and 2010 have remarked that this course was a life changing experience. They have also said that it greatly increased their knowledge and understanding of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Participants in 2010 ranged in age from 14 to 80+.
Tour sites that figure prominently in the history of the Civil Rights movement in the South. On this nine-day tour, you’ll visit historic sites, museums, centers, and tour towns in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. This guided tour provides opportunities for learning about the people and events that began and continue the struggle for freedom and equality in the United States of America.