11th-Grade Student, Rahkeam, shares his reflections after attending the 2022 Civil Rights Trip.
The Civil Rights Trip didn’t just give me a better understanding of the movement, it introduced me to an entirely new perspective. For so long every time we’ve been taught about civil rights it’s always taught as though it was a movement of the past, an ancient relic of some kind. Like others, I too held that thought — except that notion was proven untrue with the Summer of 2020. I had so many questions and I felt misled, and for a while, my questions went unanswered.
That’s why TMA takes a group of eleventh graders on a trip to the south. For the 2022 trip, we stopped in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Though COVID-19 altered the trip a little, one thing didn’t change — the lifelong impact the trip had on us. In Tennessee, we saw the lighter side of the dark truth, African-American movers and shakers in the 20th century who got their start on Beale Street.
In Alabama, we saw beautiful pieces of art, sculptures, and the 16th Street Baptist Church. In Mississippi, we visited Tougaloo College which sat on the most beautiful grounds with old southern oaks that reminded me of a scene from Gone With The Wind. In a way, that reminder was accurate, Tougaloo sits on the land of a former slave plantation. In fact, the masters’ house still sits on the property, just steps away from one of the finest HBCUs. We walked on ground that we would’ve worked on 150 some years ago. One day some of us will be walking those grounds as college graduates, imagine trying to explain that to a slave master.
We saw what remains of the grocery where Emmett Till was accused of flirting with a white girl. That’s the very place where his fate was decided — not even a week later, Till, who was only fourteen, was taken from his uncle’s home. I don’t think killed exposes light on the truth enough here, instead, I prefer to use executed. Because that’s just what they did to Till, they took the life of a child over something I’m sure almost every teenage boy is guilty of. The courthouse where the trial took place had polished wooden floors, long dark benches and the natural light almost made me forget that one of the greatest injustices took place in that courtroom. The legal system had failed a grieving mother, we know for a fact the legal system is broken today — but I couldn’t begin to imagine trying to find justice in a system that refuses to acknowledge your humanity.
The trip took the history from a textbook and put it in your face. The good, the bad, and the half of humanity I wish didn’t exist. The trip answered all of my questions about the civil rights movement and left me with new ones. I hope that every student has the opportunity to take such a trip. To see history where it happened, to know that there are personalities to these figures we hear so much about, to meet the people who dined, lived, or simply met these figures is enough to put tears into your eyes. Learning about the movement in a classroom is one thing, but to leave the doors of the schoolhouse and see these monuments, places, and survivors will leave every student with an experience they’ll forever be grateful for. The pain of the movement is very much alive and reminds you that time may pass but the story is still the same and we all have so much more to learn.