Transformative Journey


EWU students travel in the footsteps of America’s civil rights icons

By Eastern Magazine

Spring break is traditionally known as a week to relax and unwind, perhaps even to travel to a warmer climate and lay by a pool or the ocean. For 15 EWU Africana Studies students, however, spring break involved a different kind of trip — a “1,000-mile tour” that wasn’t about catching the sun’s rays and enjoying drinks with festive umbrellas. It was instead about experiencing personal growth through exploring a turbulent and transformative time in American history: the movement for civil rights.

The “1,000 Miles Civil Rights Tour” took students to prominent movement sites in six southern states: Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia. From March 22-29 the group visited museums and monuments that capture the impact of the long struggle for equality.

The tour provided a unique opportunity for the students to “taste and see” the price paid by so many heroic individuals whose demands for equity and equality forever changed America’s laws and culture.

The impact of this experience is something that is not easily translated to the pages of a magazine. That is why, upon their return, the students put together a campus presentation and video to tell their story.

“There’s no way to truly prepare for this trip,” says EWU student Chelsea Smith in the video. “Emotionally, physically and mentally—there’s no way.”

The tour provided a unique opportunity for the students to “taste and see” the price paid by so many heroic individuals whose demands for equity and equality forever changed America’s laws and culture.

“Looking at my peers on this trip, I saw no dry eyes,” another student, Kris McLemore, says. “I saw lots of weary eyes and I saw pain that they never thought they would see before.”

“I felt sad, but also hopeful,” adds fellow student Monica Winn.

Watching the video, viewers feel a sense of the deep impact this journey had on the students’ hearts and minds — an emotional journey that couldn’t be duplicated in a classroom or in a textbook. A real-world and deeply meaningful learning experience is exactly what Scott Finnie, the university’s Africana Studies Program director, was hoping for. “We were able to, in a sense, turn something cold, historical and distant, of the past, and make it an emotive and present reality,” he says.

The 1,000 Miles Civil Rights Tour was the culmination of a winter-quarter class that covered the history of America’s civil rights struggle during the post-World War II period. The course involved daily journaling and led up to several class presentations. Finnie hopes to make the class and the Deep South trip an annual experience for EWU students.
You can find the 1,000 Miles Civil Rights Tour testimonial video on the university’s YouTube channel: ewuvideo.