By Sol Ayala
As 11 Trevecca students stood on the porch of Martin Luther King Jr.’s former home, the museum director who now oversees the home drove by and saw them.
Shirley Cherry, tour director at the Dexter Parsonage Museum, stopped by and talked to them about growing up in the isolated South.
“I was not allowed to look people in the eye. Now that I can, I won’t stop doing it,” Cherry told the band.
“It blew my mind, it totally changed my perspective of analyzing history,” said Elizabeth Landin, a student on the trip. “It still has repercussions today.”
Students in Jamie Casler’s Civil Rights Experience class spent three days visiting historic sites related to the history behind the civil rights movement that occurred in the South decades ago.
On the first day, in Montgomery AL, they visited the Lynching Memorial, the Legacy Museum and the Dexter Parsonage Museum – once the home of Martin Luther King – due to Covid-19 restrictions they could not enter the house; instead, they stood on the porch.
“You think the dates are in the past and now you see it as a reality,” Landin said. “They happened not so long ago.”
Casler, an assistant professor and director of social justice, has been on the trip for seven years. This year, to help guide the tour, Casler has invited professors Iris Gordon, adjunct professor at the Social Justice Center, and Erica Hayden, associate professor of history, sociology and psychology. Each of the teachers had the chance to give a lecture on the different places they visited.
On Saturday, February 4, the group visited the Rosa Parks Museum, the same day as Rosa Parks’ birthday. The museum had cupcakes and the exhibit from the bus where Rosa Parks was arrested.
“To get into these places, stand on the porch where Martin Luther King Jr lived and stand at the bus stop where Rosa Parks got on the bus in 1955,” Hayden said. “It means a lot more than just seeing in a textbook.”
Their next stop was Birmingham AL, there they visited the Civil Rights Institute, 16th Street Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park
“We are making history, learning from the past, observing the present and knowing how we can work for the future,” Casler said.
Their final stop for the three-day trip was Memphis TN, where they visited the Lorraine Motel. After a day of learning, the band spent the rest of the day in downtown Memphis, known for its blues and soul music, and visited the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum.
“We try to incorporate fun elements into the trip. As it can be quite difficult to visit all the civil rights places, where many tragedies have historically taken place,” Casler said.
Casler says the feedback he’s received from students over the years has given him hope. He says students leave the classroom inspired by the civil rights movement and African-American history, his students leave full of hope for a better future.
The class trip takes place every two years and all students can take the course. It will then be offered in the spring of 2024.