Day one of the 2020 Civil Rights Trip
The first stop of the nineteenth annual Civil Rights Trip was a new one.
Newnan, Georgia, is the site of an installation by Providence photojournalist Mary Beth Meehan.
Meehan's work puts a spotlight on a carefully curated crosssection of Newnan residents: black, white, Hispanic, Asian, old and young, from up and down the socialeconomic scale.
With Ms. Meehan as the guide, Gordon's group got to hear the rationale for many of the installation decisions.
There's a reason Brittany is on the side of the former whites-only hospital.
There's a reason Pastor Jimmy's portrait gazes at the street marking the boundary of the old black business district.
There's a reason Ms. Berry's portrait is across from the Confederate memorial.
The installation looks similar to the one Meehan did in downtown Providence.
But Gordon's motor coach driver, Mr. Brown, a lifetime resident of the South, immediately recognized how radical this work was in the context of a small southern town.
He and Ms. Meehan began a banter that continued throughout the visit.
Then, Ms. Meehan began introducing students to the people in the portraits themselves.
Pastor Jimmy convened the students, and the Newnan residents, in his church's youth center.
Together, they told stories of race, reconciliation, and the impact the installation has had on them and their community.
Some of the stories were dramatic, as with Pastor Jimmy's public apology for his family's history of owning slaves, a speech he made across the street from a recent Nazi rally.
Others were quieter, like Ms. Barry's stories of "working for white people in private homes."
As questions came in, from students and adults, the presentation segued into lunch.
Students talked to local press.
Photographers talked to photographers.
And the children from the North listened to their elders from the South.
From the historically Confederate town of Newnan, Gordon traveled to the historically black institution of Tuskegee University.
Approaching Tuskegee University, Mr. Anderson had questions for the group.
What was Tuskegee University originally founded as? How was it built? What was Booker Washington's vision for how African-Americans could improve their lot in post Civil War America?
The students had the answers.
When they began touring Tuskegee, they began thinking about new questions.
Like: what is it like at a school that primarily serves African Americans?
How can a place so unapologetically black grow and thrive in a part of the country notorious for systemic racism?
How many college students know where their schools' founders are buried?
How does it feel to participate in a tradition one hundred and forty years old?
Would a student tour guide at Brown, of any racial background, feel the same pride and belonging that Cameron seems to feel at Tuskegee?
Why are schools like this important?
Back in the bus, they journaled about these and other questions.
It was almost dark when they arrived in Montgomery.
After visiting the Greyhound station (scene of the Freedom Riders’ brutal beating) and the First Baptist National Church (laid siege by white mobs hours later that same day), Gordon paid an evening call on Dr. King’s former home.
Even King’s home, where he lived when his children were young, bears the mark of violence; the porch still has a dent from a bombing from those years.
Tomorrow will bring more new adventures, including Gordon's first-ever tour of the Alabama state capitol.
It will also have some familiar journeys, like the walk across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma.
On Super Tuesday, as Alabamians vote in the primary, Gordon will retrace the route of the Voting Rights March of 1965.
No matter what the elections of 2020 bring, Gordon will be back next year.
And the twentieth Civil Rights Trip will once again be different from all of the ones that came before it.