Nearly 30 Valparaiso University students, faculty, and staff seized the opportunity to travel to Selma, Ala., during spring break to learn more about the civil rights movement of the 1960s. To highlight the trip, the group was fortunate enough to participate in the annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee with thousands of marchers from across the country.
In 2012, Valparaiso University President Mark Heckler and Provost Mark Schwehn visited Concordia College of Alabama in Selma to discuss developing a relationship between Concordia and Valpo. As a result of this trip, Alan Bloom, associate professor of history, coordinated a spring break trip this year to Concordia, as well as other locations in Alabama and Tennessee, to give Valpo students an opportunity to visit the locations of important moments in United States civil rights history.
“I am delighted that both students and faculty from Valparaiso University had a chance to be part of the commemoration of a vitally important moment in the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S., to strengthen ties between Valpo and Concordia, Selma, and to learn through experience and inter-personal engagement about the past and the ongoing struggles to end racism in this country,” Schwehn said.
The civil rights trip included stops at the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute in Selma, the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Ala., 16th Street Baptist Church and Parsonage in Birmingham, Ala., and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, among other sites.
The eye-opening experience offered unique opportunities for students to connect with history and to see the continuing impact of a movement that occurred decades before the students were even born.
“I decided to go on the trip because I felt that it would be educational and fun, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to walk in the same house that a legend like Martin Luther King Jr. lived in,” said Toni Savage, a freshman nursing major from Chicago. “My most memorable moment was going to the Lorraine Motel [in Memphis, Tenn.] where King was assassinated and the museums with graphic pictures and stories. The experience has made me grateful for everything that I have.”
For many, a highlight of the trip was participating with thousands of marchers from around the country in Selma’s annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee reenactment across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The act commemorated the 48th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” a protest that marked the political and emotional peak of the American civil rights movement.
“This was a period in the battle for civil rights when Martin Luther King Jr. and many other activists were trying to use mass social protests to draw attention to the violations of voting rights which were to have been guaranteed by the 15th amendment,” Bloom said. “It was a remarkable journey.
“For me, the most powerful part was the chance to hear the moving testimonies of so many who were deeply involved in the civil rights movement back in the 1950s and 60s.”
Through participating in the Bridge Crossing Jubilee, students said they felt inspired by the overall unity and personal stories of the activists.
“Marching across the bridge was something I was looking forward to since we started this trip,” said Justin Dunn, a senior history major. “When it came time to march across the bridge, I knew what this meant and the background behind it.
“It wasn’t just a remembrance — it was actively participating and remembering what people fought and died to get.”
Dunn also said he didn’t know what to expect when he came to Selma, but as he walked across the bridge, recalling the stories he’d heard about “Bloody Sunday,” the whole experience became real to him.
While it was inspiring to see how far the nation has come, the students recognized the need for continuing work in promoting social justice and equality both in the United States and throughout the world.
“The most memorable moment for me was going to the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama,” said Christina Crawley, a sophomore social work major from Gary, Ind. “At this center, we saw how racism, discrimination, and hatred still exist within this country and all over the world. It was disheartening to see how much society still has to go for there to be equality for all people and how many people and groups desire to keep the hatred within our world.”
As co-president of the Black Student Organization (BSO) on Valpo’s campus, Crawley knows that she has an opportunity to lead students on campus in promoting diversity and inclusion.
“As a society — and community — we still have a lot of work to do before everyone can live comfortably,” Crawley said. “The trip made me think about what I can do as a leader to continue to promote diversity, and how I can make this diversity widespread and not just limited to BSO and other Office of Multicultural Programs organizations.
“I now see the need for unity between students of all religious backgrounds, because only then can we truly appreciate one another.”