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UCR professor taking students to Alabama for lesson in civil rights

UCR professor taking students to Alabama for lesson in civil rights

(April 17, 2001)

UCR students studying the era of Civil Rights will travel to Alabama this Spring to meet with the new mayor of Selma, Alabama, the first elected Black mayor since the 1960s.

Their trip, organized by UCR Professor Ralph Crowder, will include visits to Civil Rights landmarks, such as the 16th St. Baptist Church, where four young girls lost their lives in a 1963 dynamite attack, a case that has reentered the court system recently.

Last Spring, Crowder made the same journey with 10 UCR students who agreed to pay their own way to see first-hand the reality of modern Southern hospitality and the history of Southern brutality.

They saw the land of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., where park statues freeze heart-stopping images of police dogs, fangs bared in mid-attack. They visited with relatives of people who lthe girls killed in bombing attacks. They toured Ebeneezer Baptist Church, the pulpit where Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired a worldwide congregation.

"I wanted to breathe some life into our readings," Professor Crowder explained. "Nobody in my class had ever been to the South."

He contacted his friend, longtime activist and historian Horace Huntley at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, to find out when they could participate in a seminar at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Ten students decided it was worth paying for four days in Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham, and afterwards they said it was a success.

John Wilcox, who is white, said he felt moved by a Sunday morning worship service at the 16th St. Baptist Church. A museum devoted to Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, the girls killed in the Sunday morning blast, has taken over the church basement. "It was the first time I've felt a brotherhood with other races," said Wilcox.

Makayla Williams, an African American student, said she was awestruck while walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where police attacked civil rights protesters with clubs and tear gas in 1965. "I realized that all that violence happened to real people just thirty-five years ago," she said. "It's kind of like someone who is learning French getting a trip to France."

Crowder hopes this Spring's trip to Alabama will include even more people, for visits to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the King Center in Atlanta, the Rosa Parks museum in Montgomery and other sites. He is searching for a corporate partner to pay for airfare for students who otherwise could not go. "It really was an exciting and educational experience for all of last year's students, and I want to make it even better this year," said Crowder.

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