The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

Living History Trip offers insight into Civil Rights Movement

Students, over the course of the annual week-long Living History Trip, visit five cities across the South that were central to the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, so as to gain a deeper understanding both of the movement itself and its present-day implications.

Social studies teachers Marcie Miller and Mark Wheeler, along with English teacher Nicholas Rothstein, flew to Memphis, Tennessee in April of 2022 to map out each element and destination of the Living History Trip. As they traveled around the South and outlined this trip, these teachers had a key goal in mind: offering students an experience that would bring to life the people, places and stories of the Civil Rights Movement beyond the classroom.

Open to juniors and seniors, the Living History Trip is an annual week-long trip in April. Last year, 18 students embarked on the trip, along with four teachers: Miller, Wheeler, Rothstein and METCO teacher Loring Green.

The trip begins at the Lorraine Motel, the site of Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968. From there, the group travels to Glendora, Mississippi, where students meet Mayor Johnny Thomas and visit the Emmett Till Historical Intrepid Center. Last year, students also participated in a day of service in which they made memorial plaques and planted trees at this site.

The next stop on the trip is Jackson, Mississippi where students meet Jerry Mitchell, an investigative reporter who worked for the Mississippi Clarion Ledger, the local newspaper in Jackson. Mitchell’s work as a reporter during the Civil Rights Movement led to the reopening of numerous court cases, including the killing of Medgar Evers and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham. Miller said this experience is special as students are able to speak with Mitchell, who is featured in the museum itself.

“His articles single-handedly led to the attorney general’s reopening or the district attorney’s reopening those cases and finally getting justice for those families,” Miller said. “So we meet with him at the Jackson Civil Rights Museum, which is great because not only does he meet with us in a room and answer questions, but he’s actually featured in the museum itself so it’s fun to walk through the museum with him.”

Following Jackson, the group travels to Montogomery, Alabama, a profoundly influential and significant city in the Civil Rights Movement. One of the first stops in Montgomery is the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the church where King began his first full-time pastorship in 1954. Students also visit The Legacy Museum and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, both created by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), an organization “committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the U.S., challenging racial and economic injustice, and protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society”, according to their website. The EJI museums work to bring light to the racial violence and legal, political and social discrimination that has plagued American history, while also finding ways to move forward through restorative justice. Wheeler said students learn how the EJI is working to challenge the racism ingrained in our legal system.

“Laurel Haddox, the legal fellow, told us this incredible thing that one of the reasons EJI began their museum was this long-term understanding that if they were going to successfully win death row cases in a South whose legal system has been very much tilted against African American defendants, that they needed to challenge and face the historical narrative that’s existed in the South, this legacy of white supremacy,” Wheeler said. “They had to tell the story so that eventually, over time, they would challenge that narrative and get juries that would be more receptive to the innocence of a person based on the facts of the case and not a guilty verdict because of the color of their skin. That’s why they created this museum and other things now in Montgomery, which is amazing.”

After spending two days in Montgomery and further exploring the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the city, the group then moves on to Selma, Alabama, a city that held great importance in the fight for voting rights in 1965. In March of 1965, thousands of people marched from Selma to Montgomery, protesting Jim Crow laws in the South, which denied African Americans the right to vote. Students visit the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site where protestors were brutally beaten by law enforcement as they marched. Wheeler said Selma is a true example of how local people fight to keep history alive.

“You go to Selma, and you go to what clearly is a labor of love, people just making sure that this history doesn’t disappear,” Wheeler said. “So we see folks there, we meet a couple of folks who are involved in both the creation of the museum and have some connection to the Voting Rights Campaign of ‘65.”

One of the final stops of the trip is Birmingham, Alabama, where students learn about the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing, an act of racial terrorism that killed four African American girls. While continuing to serve as a place of worship, the 16th Street Baptist Church holds a tragic and powerful history. Students also explore Kelly Ingram Park and learn about the Children’s Campaign of 1963 in Birmingham.

The trip ends in Atlanta, Georgia, where students visit the King Center. Wheeler said the first and final destination of this trip intentionally honors the legacy of King and his remarkable leadership within the Civil Rights Movement.

“The King Center is a working center to educate and to illuminate folks to King’s insistence on non-violence and the steps that he envisioned as non-violent campaigns and social change,” Wheeler said. “So we reflect at that last moment, that last place.”

While learning the history of this movement is at the core of the Living History Trip, Wheeler said this experience is also about finding meaning in an often tragic history and making connections between the past and the present.

“EJI is a perfect example. The folks in Selma with the voting rights museum: in small ways and in big, grandiose ways, it’s people taking the lessons of the Civil Rights Movement and then making it real for students today,” Wheeler said. “So you can translate your experience through that or take inspiration from these people and realize the mantra of the movement was that ordinary people can do extraordinary things.”

Rothstein said hearing the experiences of those who lived through and took part in the Civil Rights Movement is invaluable to learning and understanding this history.

“I would argue that it’s essential learning for understanding the impact of the Civil Rights Movement as well as real U.S. history, in particular in regards to race and justice and equality and the lack thereof,” Rothstein said. “It puts real, physical imagery to places and people who are still alive because you meet people who are directly involved and affected by the Civil Rights Movement, who are unfortunately getting up there in age and they’re not going to be around much longer.”

Miller said each of these historical sites provides tangible, in-person experiences that classroom settings often cannot give to students.

“I think one of the things that’s most valuable is seeing the places that you learn about in history so it becomes so much more meaningful when you actually meet people who were there at the time and who can walk you through the history in a way that you can’t get in the classroom,” Miller said.

In the end, according to Wheeler, this experience intends to inspire and drive students toward being the changemakers that society calls for today.

“It’s people who show up in history books, but there were thousands of people doing the day-to-day stuff and still sustaining the legacy of the movement,” Wheeler said. “So I think our goal is to have kids be inspired and to come back and to see themselves as agents of change and good.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All comments are reviewed by Cypress staff before being published. To read our complete policy, see our policies underneath the About tab.
All The Cypress Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *