Rashi’s Grade 7 class embarked last week on its first-ever civil rights trip through the American South. This four-day trip, which was years in the making, took students through Atlanta, Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma to witness historic sites of the U.S. civil rights movement.
Their first stop was the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta, GA, where they spent time at the tomb of Coretta and Martin Luther King Jr. Students visited the reflecting pool, and then went to MLK’s birth home and the Freedom Hall. The day was capped off with a 2.5-hour ride to Montgomery, AL where the tour would continue at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The class was led through the first part of the museum, which was dedicated to over 40 martyrs of the civil rights movement, ranging from Dr. Martin Luther King to Cheney, Goodman, and Schumer, to Emmett Till, and many more. Students then watched an educational film which summarized many of the important events of the civil rights movement, and a short film about the present day racial justice movement and the importance of getting involved in things that you see as unjust or wrong. “The students were very engaged, asking excellent questions and sharing the knowledge they had about both the civil rights movement and current events,” wrote Middle School social studies teacher Keith Civin in his report to parents. Another highlight of the day was going to Dexter St. Baptist Church where Martin Luther King Jr. was the chief pastor during much of the early days of the movement, including during the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56.
“We were led by the wonderful educator Miss Wanda Battle, who told us not only about King’s time in Montgomery but also more importantly the need to love oneself and others around you. To quote Miss Wanda, ‘love is a lifestyle.’ It was quite a sight seeing about ten Rashi students standing in front of the church, where Dr. King once stood singing ‘This Little Love of Mine’,” said Mr. Civin.
The third day was full of amazing experiences. Students were surprised with a visit to Rosa Parks’ former apartment—where she lived when she refused to give up her seat on the bus, effectively kickstarting the Montgomery Bus Boycott four days later. The apartment has been left as it was when Parks moved to Detroit, after receiving death threats in Montgomery. As one student said “that was really cool, I touched the same door knob that Rosa Parks used to touch.”
The class then spent time at The Legacy Museum, where students learned about the history of slavery in the U.S., followed by a very moving visit to the The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which is dedicated to all those killed by lynching. The next stop was Selma, AL where students saw the National Voting Rights Museum and a Confederate cemetery, and took a walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
By Thursday, the final day of the trip, our 7th graders returned to Atlanta to tour the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Students began on the first floor of the center, which is dedicated to the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., to examine artifacts such as the original version of his famous speech, “I Have A Dream.” Other highlights were the exhibits on Human Rights issues throughout the world, including LGBTQ rights, law enforcement training, and the fight against human trafficking. Our students came away inspired, energized, and educated by their four days down south, showing utmost respect for the topics and spaces they learned about.
As Mr. Civin noted, “The students experienced things I am sure they never thought they would.”