In our quest to visit the nation’s landmark Civil Rights battlefields, our class has walked some of America’s most hallowed ground. In Greensboro, North Carolina, we visited a statue commemorating the “A&T Four,” whose tenacity sparked the proliferation of the student-led sit-in movements of 1961. From North Carolina we traveled to Georgia, where we visited the final resting place of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose tireless crusade against injustice ensured his rightful place among the pantheon of America’s finest leaders. Our travels then brought us to Alabama, where we first journeyed to Birmingham. The site of Eugene “Bull” Connor’s vicious assault on peaceful protestors in 1963, Birmingham became the site of one of King’s most successful campaigns when unprecedented media coverage of Connor’s attack dogs and high-pressure fire hoses begun to transform the hearts and minds of American citizens.
From Birmingham, we made our way to Selma, where we traced the path of those who marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge only to be met with the tear gas and bill clubs of Alabama State Troopers. Our final stop in Alabama was Montgomery, the state capitol, where Rosa Park’s quiet act of courage sparked the creation of the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-1956 and the rise of Dr. King and the SCLC.
On Thursday we traveled to the uniquely vibrant and always entertaining New Orleans, where we toured the dilapidated Lower Ninth Ward, a largely black area ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Though the city itself holds little in the way of Civil Rights memorials, our drive through the Lower Ninth Ward was an alarming reminder of the deplorable living conditions forced upon many African Americans today. After a lively tour of the French Quarter, we journeyed to Jackson, Mississippi, where our visit to the Medgar Ever’s house proved an exceptionally chilling and powerful experience. Field Secretary for the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP, Evers was assassinated in his driveway just feet away from his wife and children in 1963. From Mississippi we traveled to Tennessee, where we toured the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel and then Fisk University, one of the nation’s most prominent historically black universities, in Nashville, our final stop.
Ultimately, my experiences this past week are memories I will cherish for the rest of my life. To walk the ground tread by activists like King, John Lewis, Diane Nash and the thousands of ordinary foot soldiers for the cause was a dream come true for me. The places I’ve visited, the lessons I’ve learned, and the faces I’ve seen have lit my soul on fire. Professor DeLaney’s course has reaffirmed what I believe to be my purpose in life: to join the struggle to obtain full civil rights for all, regardless of the color of their skin, their gender, their sexual orientation, their socioeconomic status, or their religious affiliation. This journey begins for me in the classroom in just a few short months, as I prepare to educate and mentor minority students from low-income communities in Charlotte, North Carolina, through Teach For America. I have no idea where life will take me from there, but I know it will be somewhere in pursuit of the dream of equality, to which King and so many others have dedicated themselves.
Our travels today brought us to Selma, Alabama, the site of one of the most significant battlegrounds of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Brought recently to the nation’s attention with the release of Ava DuVernay’s 2015 film Selma, this small Alabama town is one that, as a History major and Africana Studies minor, I had studied extensively before visiting. Yet after crossing the famous Edmund Pettus Bridge, I learned that to read about a place and to stand in it are two distinctly different things.
After successful campaigns in Montgomery and Birmingham, Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) turned their attention to the issue of securing voting rights for black Americans, who had been systematically disenfranchised through repressive legal measures and violent intimidation in the years since Reconstruction. Selma proved to be the ideal battleground upon which to wage a campaign for full voting rights. Although organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had been working tirelessly to increase voter registration of black citizens, when King arrived in Selma in January 1965, less than two percent of Selma’s black citizens were registered.
After twenty-six year old Jimmie Lee Jackson was murdered by a white Alabama State Trooper in a protest in the neighboring town of Marion, Alabama, activists proposed a march from Selma to Montgomery. Because King was in Atlanta, Hosea Williams and John Lewis led a group of protesters across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Sunday, March 7. As the group reached the other side of the bridge, they were stopped by a group of armed Alabama State Troopers, led by Selma sheriff Jim Clark, who ordered the protesters to turn around. When the group refused to leave, the troopers pushed forward with tear gas and batons, attacking the protesters, who began to flee for their lives. National media coverage captured the events on the bridge, which has come to be known as “Bloody Sunday,” and hundreds of thousands of Americans across the country witnessed the utter horror and brutality of Southern racism.
Deeply affected by the television coverage of “Bloody Sunday,” thousands of Americans answered a call made by Dr. King, and traveled to Selma in the following days. On March 21, King finally led a march from Selma to Montgomery, with thousands of participants, both white and black, and on August 6, President Johnson signed the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law. This act signified a major victory for King and the thousands of Americans who committed themselves to the cause of justice and equality.
Yet fifty years after the events in Selma, the fight led by Dr. King and others is far from finished. Recent events in Ferguson, Baltimore and North Charleston raise significant concerns about racially motivated police brutality, and there exists the sobering fact that one in three African American males will be incarcerated at least once over the course of his lifetime. If King’s lessons are to be truly applied, however, one must also address the discrimination and struggles faced by the poor, women, other racial minorities and the GBLTQ community, to name just a few. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s made significant strides towards achieving greater social justice, but there remains an incredible amount of work to be done before our nation is able to truly rise up and fulfill the creed of its promise. To borrow terminology from the movement, revolution must rage on before reconciliation can occur.
Today marked the beginning of our class’s nine-day journey throughout the Deep South on a quest to explore our nation’s extraordinarily rich Civil Rights history. Our travels will take us through six different states, and more than ten unique cities as we visit some of America’s most significant Civil Rights landmarks. Leaving the parking deck at a dreadfully early 7 a.m., our group of eight (seven students and Professor Ted DeLaney) set out in our fifteen passenger van for our very first stop, Greensboro, N.C. More than any of the other places we will visit over the next eight days, Greensboro will always hold a special place in my heart, as it is my hometown.
Our stop in Greensboro was unfortunately brief, but we did take the time to visit the campus of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, the nation’s largest historically black university. Although our group enjoyed the campus’s quaint beauty and refreshingly warm weather, we focused our attention on a statue commemorating the famous “A&T Four,” a group of students who rose to national prominence during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
By January of 1960, the Civil Rights Movement had slowly begun to develop across the United States; Civil Rights organizations like CORE and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund were working tirelessly to achieve social justice, while the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 and 1956 catapulted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., into the national spotlight. Yet on February 1, 1960, four exceptionally brave young black A&T students staged a sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro to challenge the racial segregation of public facilities across the South. Though the Greensboro sit-in was by no means the first of its kind, its effect was perhaps unparalleled. The courage and fortitude displayed by the four men inspired droves of young students across the nation to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience as sit-ins in Southern cities everywhere began to spread like wildfire. Planned and executed entirely by students, the Greensboro sit-in was instrumental in ushering in a new wave of the movement dominated by the nation’s youth.
Though I’ve spent the entirety of my life thus far — aside from my four-year stint in wonderful Lex-Vegas of course — in Greensboro, I found my homecoming this morning filled me with a peculiar sense of both shame and pride. It is impossible to deny or ignore Greensboro’s capitulation in the perpetuation of the most egregious aspects of the Jim Crow South. Yet as I gazed up at the solemn monument of the “A&T Four,” I also felt an immense amount of pride that these four men from my hometown, no older than myself, found the courage necessary to take a stand against social injustice. Their actions are rendered all the more poignant in the context of the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland, where young people are protesting injustices not at all dissimilar from those fifty years ago. As our class continues our travels to Alabama and as I prepare to graduate in less than a month, I hope that I can, even in some small way, emulate the valor and tenacity of those four young men in fighting for that in which they believed.
For those unfamiliar with the word, “flâneur” in French refers to a wanderer, a stroller, or someone who meanders through life without a predetermined destination. My knowledge of the flâneur lifestyle began when we read a book on the subject during winter term. The book (titled The Flâneur, by Edmund White) was assigned to introduce us to one of the most traditional lifestyles that continues to be practiced by many Parisians today. Reading about flânerie certainly got me interested in putting the concept into practice. Over the past three weeks that I’ve been living in Paris, I’ve tried my best to channel my inner flâneur as often as possible. We have lots of scheduled class meetings and group activities, but outside of these, we are free to explore Paris at our leisure. One of my favorite things to do is to take the Metro to a neighborhood that I have not yet visited. Usually, I pick one that I’ve heard my classmates talk about, so that I know there will be interesting things to do and see once I arrive. But I never try to have any plans set in stone. One of my favorite afternoons so far was when I spent some time walking through the circling paths of the Luxembourg Gardens by myself. Now, I know that this may sound like a lonely way to spend one’s time, but the whole concept of flânerie is to explore the world on your own, in silence, with no outside distractions. It’s about walking through life with your eyes wide open and your head on a slow — yet constant — swivel. While I love sharing my time here with my classmates, there is also something to be said about taking in the beautiful city of Paris on your own terms.
This week, one of our class assignments was actually to go on a flâneur adventure to any destination that we wanted. Seeing as this is what I’ve been trying to do all term, I was overjoyed by the task! For my solo excursion, I chose to wander through the Madeleine area in the eighth arrondissement. It was an area I had not seen yet, and boy, was it eye opening. Every shop in the Madeleine area is either a high-end designer clothing store or a gorgeous restaurant or café. The people who work in this area are all very professional, and I was fascinated to watch them hustle to and fro in their finely tailored suits and lovely satin scarves. This was a side of Paris I may have never seen had it not been for our flâneur project, and I’m grateful for the exposure it gave me to yet another incredible part of this city. With only one week to go, I’ve made it my personal goal to say I’ve seen the entire city of Paris in just four short weeks. Let the flâneur games begin.
I’ve never been so happy to feel this tired. Over the past week-and-a-half, my classmates and I traversed all around Paris, visiting various monuments and museums as well as exploring a number of the city’s neighborhoods. Perhaps my favorite place that we’ve visited as a group so far is the Père Lachaise Cemetery. The largest cemetery in Paris, Père Lachaise is home to a number of world-famous writers, musicians, poets and resistance fighters. Our professor led us on a walking tour of the burial grounds, and along the way we were able to visit the graves of two highly acclaimed writers: Oscar Wilde and Gertrude Stein. Although I’m not as familiar with Wilde, I have discussed the work of Gertrude Stein in a number of my English classes both at W&L and in high school. To stand at her tombstone and think about all she accomplished during her career was both a chilling and incredible experience. In addition to being the final resting place of so many illustrious people, Père Lachaise also distinguishes itself as one of the most ornate and grandiose cemeteries in existence. Each tombstone is not only large in stature, but also designed so intricately that it memorializes the persons buried below in a unique way.
While our cemetery tour was my favorite class activity, I think the most exciting visit was one that I made on my own with a friend. We went to the Louvre, one of the world’s largest art museums and one of the main attractions in all of Paris. The Louvre is daunting to anyone who makes a visit. The sheer size of the building and the expanse of the collection of art inside requires you to spend nearly an entire day there if you want to see it all. We started of our trip with an obligatory visit to the Mona Lisa. Next, we made our way through the Louvre’s many hallways and levels, taking in art from the 19th century all the way back to the 15th century. After four hours, however, our energy had dwindled. Down the flights of stairs we went, retracing our steps back through time and passing all of the centuries-old paintings we’d spent our morning gawking at. Just as we turned the final corner on our way to the exit, my friend let out a gasp. Right on the wall in front of us was a plaque bearing a name and a city all too familiar to us both: “Cy Twombly, born in 1928 at Lexington, Virginia, U.S.A.”
Stunned, we entered the room to observe the mural on the ceiling that Mr. Twombly had painted. The two of us couldn’t believe it. Here, in the Louvre, a museum that nearly everyone on earth has heard of, lives a huge work of art by a man from the town we’ve called home for the last three years. As amazing as it is being away from home and learning about a new culture, I felt a ton of Generals pride and nostalgia for W&L in that moment. So let it be known, while studying in France is an incredibly different experience than studying in Virginia, a little piece of Lexington lives in the Louvre.
Greetings from the city of love! This term, I’m fortunate enough to spend the next four weeks traversing the streets of Paris, France. My classmates and I arrived over the weekend, and I feel like we haven’t slowed down since I stepped off the plane. I say this in good spirits, though — the excitement I feel about being in a foreign country keeps fueling me to wake up each morning with the goal of seeing as much as I can that day. On Monday night, our entire group of twenty-six students sat down at an authentic Parisian bistro for a welcome dinner, compliments of our professors and W&L Spring Term Abroad. It was a great way to bond with my fellow classmates and practice a little bit of my amateur French skills (the waiters and waitresses have all been very patient with us!)
One thing I’ve learned after only being here for a few days: Parisians love their bread. When my table went through its first basket of bread at dinner, another basket full of fresh slices seemed to appear instantly. I’ve eaten at a handful of cafés and even been to an outdoor food market since then, and bread is everywhere. It comes in all shapes and sizes: baguettes, croissants, filled-pastries—you name it. At first glance, all of these baked goods look familiar, much like the kinds of bread products you can find easily in the U.S. (think Panera). But after just one bite of my first chocolate-filled croissant, I understood why France is known for them. The exterior was delicate and flaky, while the interior was dense and almost chewy. It was still warm, hinting that it had been taken out of the oven just moments before. Since trying that first pastry, I now pause to observe the fine craftsmanship of every pastry that I see on display in the windows of Paris’ countless boulangeries. Each pastry is exquisitely decorated with colorful glazes or precisely placed fruit slices. No two pastries are identical, but they are all beautiful.
For me, this symbolizes a grander theme about the city of Paris. The effort that is put in to making the bread and pastries that are sold all over the city captures just how much pride Parisians seem to take in their work and in their livelihoods. Furthermore, the people of Paris — both past and present — appear to strongly believe in the value of aesthetics. I’ve been amazed by how ornate the city is, from its clean streets and lush parks and gardens to the way the Eiffel Tower sparkles when it’s lit up at night. I cannot wait to discover what other hidden beauties this city has to offer. When I wake up each morning during the next few weeks, I won’t know for certain what I will see that day. But I can say with confidence that whatever I witness while I’m studying in Paris will surely be unforgettable.