Providence to Atlanta to Montgomery
The first stop of twenty-second Civil Rights Trip was Morehouse College, a historically Black college for men.
Morehouse is full of history: it was founded in in the South in 1867, for starters, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a graduate.
Either one of those facts could fuel an entire morning’s conversation.
But when you walk on Morehouse’s campus on a bright April morning, it’s not the history that’s striking.
It’s the vitality of the present day.
Today, students were gathering in every plaza, sidewalk and alley.
The campus was sprucing up for the MVP Weekend, the celebration for newly admitted students that is coming up next weekend.
There’s a campuswide symposium tomorrow.
Gordon’s tour group was just one of dozens exploring the campus.
The guides talked to the eighth graders as if they were all future applicants.
When Morehouse was founded, it was a radical act to educate Black men.
One hundred and fifty years later, Morehouse remains the only college dedicated to educating Black men.
Morehouse remains something singular, relevant and radical.
And while as the guides pointed out Dr. King’s old dorm…
…and the tombs of the college’s founding fathers…
…and the green that was a Civil War battlefield…
…Gordon’s eighth grade saw a campus that was alive with fresh possibility.
Morehouse’s emphasis on character, and community responsibility, probably sounded familiar to the Gordon students.
The school's round logo even looked a little like one they knew from home.
But the energy on campus was what drew the Gordon students in.
And it was the joy that helped them feel welcome.
The next stop was Montgomery, Alabama.
That’s another place where a complex history lives alongside a vital present.
Gordon’s guide for the afternoon was Joseph Trimble, of Michelle Browder’s More Than Tours.
He had a story for every block of the city, and he had a fresh perspective on even the most familiar stories.
You might know that Dr. King was pastor of Dexter Avenue Church, but do you know who his predecessor was?
And do you know why his predecessor was asked to leave?
Who called Dr. King Uncle Marty? And where did the organizers of the Montgomery bus boycott go to unwind?
What’s the story behind the casket atop that office building?
Which white families had tunnels to the waterfront beneath their houses?
Mr. Trimble knows, and that’s not all.
Where were enslaved people brought into town? Where were they warehoused, and where were they sold?
Mr. Trimble had the eighth grade walk that path.
It was the heart of the local economy, and it went straight through downtown.
Gordon has been visiting Montgomery for twenty-two years, but no group spent as much time walking the streets of the city as the eighth grade did today.
It wasn’t just downtown, either; Mr. Trimble took the group down side roads, beneath highways, into housing projects and far beyond the visitor’s center.
Why was this necessary?
Was Rosa Parks’ family home historically important?
Was Reverend Graetz’s parsonage architecturally significant?
When Gordon students go on this trip, they’ve already learned the history.
The value of the trip, then, is to humanize these stories.
By bringing the heroes down to life size - by rendering Dr. King as Uncle Marty, and Rosa Parks as the lady next door, and by walking the same streets they once did - these students get one step closer to understanding that they, too, will have a chance to change their own community someday.
This lesson was made plain in the last visit of the day.
For the first time, Gordon visited the Anarcha Lucy Betsey Monument.
The monument memorializes the sacrifice of three enslaved women who were the subjects of experiments performed by Montgomery’s J. Marion Sims, the so-called “father of gynecology.”
The site goes beyond telling their story, though, drawing in dozens of stories of women’s health, reproductive rights, sexual violence, childbirth and childrearing.
The work was created by artist Michelle Browder, using objects donated by women across the country.
It is a titanic achievement. And yet.
Among the Gordon chaperones is the teacher of the eighth grade’s art and social justice elective.
Just last Friday, she had eighth graders wielding a plasma cutter to create metal forms for a sculpture.
The shapes were suggested by drawings done by students across the school.
No one was pointing it out today.
But these students already know a little bit about creating a large scale metal sculpture in collaboration with a large and diverse community.
It might be hard work, but it’s not magic.
So today they marveled at the work other people had done.
But as they come to understand the strength they each have, who knows what they will be able to do in the years ahead?
More on the Civil Rights Trip at www.gordonschool.org/civilrights