CMS Teachers Travel South to Learn about America’s Most Important Untold Stories

“We have to come to grips with our own history-not only genocide, slavery, exploitation, and systems of oppression, but also the legacies of those who resisted and fought back and still fight back.”  — Timothy B. Tyson, author of The Blood of Emmett Till

Charlotte Teachers Institute, in partnership with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ (CMS) Office of Diversity and Inclusion, hosted 28 CMS teachers on the trip of a lifetime from June 13 through June 16, 2019.  Led by Larry Bosc, retired CMS history teacher, this trip gave these teachers a chance to experience essential American history.  Called the Civil Rights (Racial Equity) trip, the teachers visited historic southern cities at the center of the American Civil Rights movement:  Montgomery, AL; Selma, AL; Jackson, MS; and Birmingham, AL.  They toured museums where they learned more about the full narrative of the movement, and visited historical sites where some of America’s most significant historical events occurred.  This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for these teachers.  Below is a summary of the trip by Larry Bosc:

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”  James Baldwin

The trip began with a visit to Montgomery and the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum and Memorial for Peace and Justice.  In both places the history of slavery, racial terrorism and mass incarceration are movingly illustrated and, as Baldwin said, force us to face America’s past.  It was helpful when we visited other civil rights sites in Montgomery that joining us on this trip was civil rights activist George Shinhoster.  He shared some of those experiences with our group on the bus down and while in Montgomery.

Leaving Montgomery the next day we traveled to Selma where teachers went to the starting point of the Voting Rights March (Brown Chapel AME Church) and walked across the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of Bloody Sunday. 

Our next stop was Jackson, Mississippi, where we visited the home of Medger Evers-civil rights activist whose murder in 1963 provided more impetus for the eventual passage of the Civil Rights Act the next year.  As Tyson said, our guide Minnie Watson, told us of the “legacy” of this remarkable person.who “resisted and fought back” against oppression.  After that we went to the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.  The teachers I talked to were as impressed as I was on my first visit there last November and equally moved by the special slavery exhibit “The Spirits of the Passage.”

Our visit to the Mississippi Delta and sites connected to the murder of Emmett Till the next day was truly memorable.  As Tim Tyson says in his The Blood of Emmett Till, this event was central to the generation of civil rights activists who were coming of age in the mid to late 1950’s.  The “children of Emmett Till” were Rosa Parks, John Lewis, Muhammed Ali, Richard Hatcher and more, and our trip to the rural communities of Glendora and Sumner brought home to all the teachers the importance of this event.  They were even allowed to sit in the judges chair and jury seats in the courthouse where the trial of Till’s murderers took place. 

Our final day was busy with a visit to the childhood home of Angela Davis on “dynamite hill”, a trip to Birmingham civil rights hero Fred Shuttlesworth’s Bethel Ave. church (bombed multiple times in the late 1950’s and early 60’s), a guided tour of Kelly Ingram Park, and a moving church service at the 16th Street Baptist church.  After a tour of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute we headed back to Charlotte-tired but immeasurably more informed than when we began.

As I said after the last CTI and CMS sponsored trip to Alabama, I was so energized by this trip that I almost wish I was back in the classroom so that I could bring the excitement and information I learned back to my students.  I know that will be evident when the teachers gather at our debriefing session on August 3.  That is why I continue to organize these trips because I know being there means so much more to the study and teaching of this seminal period in American history.