Exploring Civil Rights from Selma to Montgomery on Kenan’s Alternative Fall Break

This fall Kenan took about a dozen students to Montgomery and Selma to explore the historical and contemporary struggles for civil rights in the US. Students visited The Legacy Museum, the National Peace and Justice Memorial, the Dexter Avenue Parsonage, and the Rosa Parks Museum; they also traced the route from Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma to Montgomery with Aroine Irby who marched that route some 50 plus years ago. Two students who went on the trip last year returned to serve as student leaders, helping this year’s participants reflect on everything they did and saw. Below one of the student leaders, Linda Zhang, shares her thoughts on what it was like to be back in Alabama.

“I feel hopeful and hopeless, heavy and uplifted at the same time.”

“Going to Montgomery for the second time, I focused less on the factual content of the trip (albeit their undebatable significance), but more on the human element that made we feel the way we did: the drive, motivation, fear, and hopes of people fighting for civil liberties.”

“I talked to a guide at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy people terrorized by lynching. He is a retired marine who served in the military for more than 20 years and now gives tours to visitors at the memorial. While our conversation started with a Q&A about the memorial, it naturally drifted to his person life. It turns out he was born and raised in the very land on which the memorial was built. He said, “they built the museum on my backyard but it’s better this way, the story is finally being told.””

“At the freedom rides museum, a wall was covered with pictures of student protestors who went on the bus ride: they were our age, Black and White, male and female. They boarded the bus knowing they could lost their lives but they had a larger cause and belief that’s bigger than life itself.”

“The common question at Duke centers around what we want in life, but the trip with Kenan anchored my thinking in what we can’t live without.”

“The museums and sites force a confrontation”

“From the civil war artifacts to the soil of thousands of lynched African-Americans – this trip showed the students the undeniable truth of our history. More importantly, it showed the students how the preservation of memory is interpreted by the south.”

“Throughout the trip, it became clear how the preservation of memory differed between the historical sites and museums in Alabama. The Equal Justice Initiative and the First White House of the Confederacy have stark differences in their presentations and interpretation of history. As a result, we are challenged to come to terms with the balance between cultural pluralism and historical fact.”