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Students tour the South for inspirational journey through history

05/07/2014

When 10 students traveled to the South to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement, they did more than visit the sites where history happened - they met the people who lived it.

According to their professor, Dr. Frances Jones-Sneed (pictured above, far left), the group was inspired as they had the opportunity to hear from and sing with Rutha Harris, one of the original Freedom Singers, spoke with the wife of civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy, who was a close associate of Martin Luther King Jr., and met the sister of one of the four girls killed at the 16th Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

Kelle Hostetter '14 of Pittsfield, Mass., decided to go on the trip because she plans a career in elementary education, and plans to use the experience to better teach her future students about the Civil Rights Movement.

"What I saw and learned about was powerful, and I will never forget," Hostetter said. "Seeing and hearing things in person are so much better than just reading about it. Hands-on learning really helps me remember, and I will be able to tell my students about my experiences."

"Going on this trip, I realized there is more to the movement - beyond what I was taught in the classroom," said Samantha Beaton '17, a political science and public policy major from Weymouth, Mass. "Being able to walk the ground where history of the Civil Rights Movement took place put it all into a new perspective for me.

"I had the honor to hear from activists of the Civil Rights Movement, and they taught me that there is still a movement going on today. Hearing from them helped me realize that ordinary people can do extraordinary things," Beaton said.

One of the most inspiring experiences of the trip, she said, was their walk along the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of the infamous "Bloody Sunday" event which took place as protesters for equal voting rights marched from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.

"On this bridge, about 600 marchers attempted to start their journey across until police attacked them with dogs and tear gas," Beaton explained. "Marchers were horribly beaten; however, their moral was not. Activists came out two days later to continue the march. I had the opportunity to march and sing songs of freedom as I crossed."

Hostetter said, "This trip did change me. I really never thought about what African-Americans - or any person of a different race - went through just to live and be equal to one another.  It made me open my eyes and realize there are things we should never forget; because, if we do, we could repeat history, which would be wrong." 

Beaton said she, too was changed, as the trip helped her to understand what happened in the Jim Crow South. "I did not just learn about the Civil Rights Movement; I felt the Movement," she said.

"Before, I did not know how bad and dehumanizing the times were. It's up to my generation to be the change and be part of the movements today. "