Cordell Hough said he was worn out by a recent five-day bus trip with about 20 fellow educators but the 40-year-old athletics teacher at Providence Day School said it had nothing to do with traveling or the company he kept.
Hough was deeply affected by the PDS-led Civil Rights Freedom Ride, which toured historically significant sites throughout the South June 9-13.
Faculty and administrators from PDS, Charlotte Country Day, Charlotte Latin, Cannon School and Greensboro Day made the trip to get a stronger sense of the kinds of struggles and sacrifices made by civil rights pioneers, with the intention of furthering a deeper understanding for students.
There were truly profound moments we had throughout the trip, Hough said. We would have sessions after each day, and if your parents lived through that time, we were able to compare and contrast what weve learned with what we experienced.
It was a powerful but draining experience. It was overwhelming, but I would do it all over again.
Hough knew hed be in for an emotional roller coaster when he saw the itinerary: sites linked to Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta; the Southern Poverty Law Center and Capitol in Montgomery, Ala.; the Edmund Pettus Bridge (site of the Bloody Sunday conflict in 1965), National Voting Rights Museum and Lowndes County Interpretive Center in Selma, Ala.; the 16th Street Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park and Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham, Ala.; the Lorraine Motel (where King was assassinated in April 1968), National Civil Rights Museum, Graceland and the Rock N Soul Museum in Memphis, Tenn.; and Fisk University, Tennessee State University and the Nashville Public Library Civil Rights Room in Nashville, Tenn.
The trip is named for the Freedom Rides, a series of political protests against segregation by blacks and whites who rode buses together through the South in 1961. This was the third straight year for the educators journey, first led by PDS Director of Admissions Cecil Stodghill in 2000 when he was with another school. Stodghill was asked to resume the tradition when he joined PDS in 2010.
Because so many landmarks were covered during the five days, participants varied on the stop that touched them most. For Stodghill it was Birmingham, which he said was Ground Zero for the civil rights movement in a lot of ways.
Many of the folks who were along with us for the journey found Birmingham to be an emotional spot, especially the 16th Street Baptist Church, where in 1963 four little girls were killed by a bomb, Stodghill said. It was a really moving experience for a lot of folks to walk in the footsteps of where so much unrest was going on in our country.
Hough was especially moved by the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where civil rights proponents attempting to march from Selma to Montgomery were attacked with billy clubs, tear gas and other weapons.
It really touched me that people would make those kinds of sacrifices to make things better, he said.
Though the trip coincided with the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights activist Medgar Evers, Nicole DuFauchard said there were many reminders of people and events that arent in most history books.
She marveled at Birminghams Rickwood Field the countrys oldest baseball field with the old-time advertisements still on the walls. Built in 1910, the former home to the Southern Associations Birmingham Barons and the Negro Leagues Black Barons, was featured in the movie 42 about the life of Jackie Robinson.
They had a colored section and a white section for regular baseball, and for the Negro league they actually had a white section, said DuFauchard, PDSs director of multicultural affairs until recently becoming head of school at The Advent School in Boston.
Few who were on the bus are old enough to recall the historic events, but that didnt limit their appreciation for them. Hough and Stodghill said the vast majority of educators who made the journey are white.
One of the things we really try to de-emphasize as we begin the journey is white guilt, Stodghill said. Its not an expedition to amplify white guilt. This is truly an exercise in educating everyone on our history.
Charlotte is a part of that history, Stodghill said. He cited Swann v. the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971, which established court-ordered busing of students as a constitutional means of desegregating public schools.
That was the impetus for the opening of a lot of independent schools in the early 1970s, he said.
The trip was as much about the future as the past, Hough said.
Everybody took a look into the past and didnt dwell on it, Hough said. We then looked at the current situation and talked about how we could improve our lives and make things better for everybody.
The journey also built important relationships. As DuFauchard said: Five days on a bus with this mix of people gives you a chance to talk to all about the ins and outs of the civil rights movement ... and how far weve come. We follow a lot of the same trail as the Freedom Riders, and we couldnt have done that without their sacrifices.
Reid Creager is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Reid? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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