FEW PEOPLE SHAKE HANDS WITH A HISTORICAL FIGURE, but that is exactly how social work major Brigid Stuart ’21 felt on Carlow University’s Returning to the Roots of the Civil Rights Movement Tour last summer.
More than a history lesson, the nine-day tour covers thousands of miles by bus through Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee under the guidance of Communication Department Chair Linda Schifno, PhD, who designed a course on the American civil rights movement and began taking students on the tour in 2010.
Afterwards, participants better understand the sacrifice and concentrated efforts of many, united individuals who struggled for social justice.
“People, real people like you and me, were able to make a change so great and so necessary. They banded together and made a difference. They risked their lives to do so,” Stuart said in a YouTube video she helped create. (Watch the video at https://youtu.be/nwTy-wpsTmM.)
Michelle Fisher ’18, a criminology major from North Braddock, was also among the students on the 2018 tour. “One of the main reasons I chose to participate in the Returning to the Roots of the Civil Rights Movement Tour was to learn more about my history. I knew what I was taught in school was only a small part of the movement,” Fisher said.
Students visited the sacred ground of monumental events, such as the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., and explored the museums that honor the movement, including the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Ala.
Places and people were part of the experience. Fisher treasured her face-to-face moments with a protest singer and member of the Freedom Singers, Rutha Mae Harris; two Freedom Riders who worked to desegregate the public bus system, Kwame Lillard and Earnest “Rip” Patton Jr.; Joanne Bland, who co-founded the National Voting Rights Museum and marched from Selma to Montgomery at age 9; and Phyllis Brown, a younger sister of Minnijean Brown of the Little Rock Nine.
The tour impressed Fisher so much that, like Stuart, she was moved to share it with others. She spoke passionately about her experience as the student speaker at Carlow's Convocation in the fall.
“I learned more about the movement in nine days than I did throughout my entire life,” Fisher said.
Not every student who wants to join the tour can participate. The cost of travel can be too much for college students to juggle with living and education expenses, but a special group of alumni wants to help.
Upon her recent death, Gloria Miket ’68 left funds to seed a class endowment. Kimberley Hammer, Esq., vice president of University Advancement, worked with the Class of 1968 to select the tour as the focus of its giving.
The newly established Civil Rights Movement Tour Endowment will ensure all students with an interest can join the tour regardless of finances.
“Teaching the living history and legacy of these civil rights advocates fts perfectly with Carlow’s Mercy values,” Hammer said.
Members of the Class of 1968, many of whom participated in civil rights advocacy in the past, now have the opportunity to pass on its importance to students. Alumni from any class are welcome to contribute to the endowment. The gifts will impart a lasting impression about the pursuit for a just and merciful world.
By Ann Lyon Ritchie