Student Civil Rights Tour

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Those who remember the U.S. civil rights struggle often say they never expected to see an African-American president in their lifetimes. But now that history has happened at the White House, a group of college students spent their spring break retracing the steps of the people who paved the way. Reed Galin explains.  

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(Locator: Montgomery, Alabama)

Memories of the Civil Rights Era are plentiful in Montgomery. But they’re not good memories.

David Hopkins, Emporia State University Student (reading plaque): “At a white gas station, an attendant shot him after an argument over segregated bathrooms.”

United Methodist campus ministry students from Emporia State and Baker Universities in Kansas are spending spring break tracing the struggle ... from Atlanta, where Martin Luther King first became a public figure … to the Little Rock school where forced desegregation began.

The Rev. Kurt Cooper, Emporia State Campus Ministry: “Dr. King says, ‘before I was a civil rights leader, I had a call.’”

Campus minister Kurt Cooper arranged the trip to explore how spiritual beliefs relate to real world justice.

The Rev. Kurt Cooper: “You know pilgrimage is common to Christian experience in some ways. It’s just taking that idea and putting it in a different context.”

Two thousand miles of landmarks and stories, heroic…

(guide at King house) “…to get them calmed down so that they would not try to retaliate...”

…and horrible.

Chavon Brown, Baker University Student: “Two Klansmen abducted him. They beat him, cut his throat and hung his body from a tree. He was only 19 years old. It’s not fair.”

(King museum movie sound) “…until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

In Selma, the students follow in the steps of voting rights marchers who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge on what became known as Bloody Sunday.

Sam Walters, Tour Guide: “Because a lot of non-violent peaceful black marchers were beaten and tear-gassed at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge by the Alabama state troopers.”

They could have gone to the beach.

David Hopkins, Emporia State University Student: “But that fun only lasts while you’re there. The impact that we have here is for a lifetime.”

Now, it’s not just history anymore.

Ashley Lee, Emporia State University Student: “I definitely appreciate what people have gone through to make America what it is today, of every race really. I will not look at things the same after this.”


Student participants say walking in the footsteps of history helped them to better understand the stories of the individuals who made sacrifices for the struggle, but who may not be mentioned in the pages of history books.

For more information, contact the Rev. Kurt Cooper of Emporia State University at 620-342-5854.

Also, see: Students take civil rights tour for spring break

Posted: April 8, 2009