Aggie Pride

June 17th, 2018

Aggie Pride

“Aggie Pride.”  These two words can be found on every bench at the historically black college we visited today, North Carolina A&T.  This college was home to the four students who staged the Greensboro lunch counter sit ins of 1960.  These four students are the epitome of Aggie Pride and Pride in general.  Looking at this bench, I took a moment to reflect on myself and realized that there are times when I cannot find pride.  I have been raised with the privileges of being a white, able-bodied, middle class, educated male.  I have received encouragement and words of support my entire life; on only a few instances have I been discouraged or torn down.  Yet, there are times when I am unable to summon self-pride.  On the other hand, the organizers of the Greensboro sit ins suffered a lifetime of oppression and were wrongfully told that they were intrinsically less.  Degradation didn’t get these four college-aged men down, they maintained their self-worth and had pride, committing courageous acts trying to escape the strangling hands of segregation.  The civil rights movement is based on this sort of exemplary pride and I am in awe of the wonderful dignity civil rights era African Americans held regarding themselves, the culture they grew up on, and the capabilities they possessed.  All of this and more led to the gaining of some equality, and the pride was certainly warranted.  Going forward I hope that current change seekers are proud of themselves and their causes and I pray that I am proud enough of myself to be courageous and walk by their sides.  I cannot have Aggie Pride or Black Pride.  I am not a minority and I cannot fully understand the struggles that past and present oppressed groups face, but I ask that God would allow me more opportunities like this trip to learn and to listen.


A Common Desire – Susan Shannon

June 17th, 2018

This tour has a full schedule. There are stories I could share from Birmingham, AL and Memphis, TN. Maybe later.

I’m learning of the many layers/stories to the civil rights movement, more names and places than I can count. Visiting with Ernest “Rip” Patton, Jr. and Kwame Pillars in Nashville, TN was amazing. They added yet two more voices to my journey. In addition to the passions and strength displayed by many others and the power of music, their stories brought me to realize the importance of the integration of churches and schools to the movement. With each stop on our journey new people emerged from these places of worship and learning, each with their own personality and strengths. All maintained a common desire and made life choices that affected their personal relationships and socio-economic status. The fact that these men continue the fight through education is inspiring.

Kwame summed it up for me, “freedom is a journey.”

Thoughts from a “Southern Girl”

June 15th, 2018

I sit here in front of my computer after the second day is complete, and the words that are swirling around in my head to write have a hard time finding their spot on the page. How could I have not known? How can my whole family be “blissfully unaware”? Why did my history class in high school talk about it like any other topic that is “information for the test”?

Well, I don’t have any really good answers… except that it was up to me. I didn’t learn, I didn’t take the time to read, interact, explore because it was outside of my normal day-to-day busy-ness with life, kids, work. I felt like I understood… enough. That’s the problem though. My understanding of racism, (while I knew it still existed and had experienced it on some level through hearing stores of personal friends and exposure at Messiah) had not permeated my existence enough to come to terms with actually looking at my country in a different way. I was very happy with my worldview. After all, it had only been informed by my middle-class upbringing in a middle-size Tennessee town, with a family that also had the same worldview. We love our country and the freedoms is has to offer – “you can grow up to be anything you want to be.” And, in fact, that was true! I could…

Here is where the realities of my worldview crashes into the realities of those that I am learning about on this tour. How could our founding fathers declare “equality and justice for all” when what they really meant equality and justice for white, religious men?

I guess I will just need to stay comfortable with the uncomfortableness as I learn more in the next week. But then what? Then what…


It is now Thursday morning and I have learned and experienced so much. There is profound emotional response to “standing where they stood”, “walking where they walked”, reenacting a march across the bridge in Selma for voting rights. But here’s the thing…I never had to drink out of a fountain with a “colored only” sign on it, enter a public building through a side entrance or be beaten because I decided to walk across that bridge.

It has been incredible to hear from people who have shared their experiences about being involved with the Civil Rights Movement. Last night we were in Birmingham, AL and heard from two women – both associated with the bombing at the 16thStreet Church. Rev. Dr. Carolyn McKinstry was a young teenager that was excited about participating in youth Sunday. As she was coming up the back and entering the sanctuary, her four friends (around the same age) were in the bathroom preparing to come into church too. Dr. McKinstry heard a loud blast and soon found out that all four of her friends had been killed by a bomb set by the Ku Klux Klan. The second woman we heard from, Lisa McNair, was the sister of Denise McNair – one of the girls that died. Some of the stories they told were unbelievable. One of the quotes that was shared that was really impactful was, “Civil Rights is black people’s pain and white people’s shame.” They both need healing. But they encouraged us to love. You can’t make change without love. The whole Civil Rights Movement was built on nonviolence and prayer.

How, then, can we move on from this experience? How can we share about their stories as well as our own? For me, it is a process of stepping out of my comfort zone and being willing to love… really love. Having a heart that is open and then putting it on the line. Pushing to do things that are uncomfortable.  That’s quite a challenge for me, but NOTHING compared to the challenges I have been hearing about this week. Now I am thinking and praying about how this experience will make a difference in my life. I cannot go back to “business as usual”. Help me Lord to see in a new way so that it will begin the process of a “new normal”.

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) – Susan Shannon

June 14th, 2018

In Albany, GA I learned about the work of Charles Sherrod, Cordell Reagon, and Charles Jones with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). I’m including their names so I don’t forget them. Each played a role in supporting efforts that included registering people to vote and training students in non-violence.

Cordell was a freedom singer along with Rutha Harris. Songs gave members of the freedom movement strength when marching, when being arrested and when in jail. We were introduced to Rutha as she sang and marched with a freedom sign into the church we visited. It was all I could do to not jump out of the pew and march behind her. Rutha was amazing! She taught us songs and we ended our visit singing This Little Light of Mine together.

I’ve been offered opportunities to participate in direct non-violent action in the past few years and have not been brave enough to participate. I see a strength in the individuals we are meeting and learning about and wonder what will happen given my next opportunity.


June 14th, 2018

Sharing this experience with colleagues has been wonderful, and I am learning from them as well as from our guides and experts. Here Jim LaGrand gets up close and personal with public history.  I commend his enthusiastic engagement!


Albany, Georgia (Brian Smith)

June 14th, 2018

Two days ago I was feeling lost in a whirlwind of sights and stories. My mental plate was as full as my dinner plate, and the buffet of southern food and history seemed endless.

But it is suddenly Thursday, and we have a bit of a ride this morning to Memphis. I find myself thinking back about the cities we’ve visited, and the way each city’s story has its own distinctive flavor and character.

Albany, Georgia was particularly poignant for me. I don’t know how much people know about it; if my experience is typical, most of us haven’t heard of it. Apparently, some in the movement considered the work there unsuccessful. But anyone who has heard Rutha Harris sing would agree that Albany provided the movement with one of its most powerful voices.

Our host Debra moved me with her passion, her honesty, and her commitment to telling the story of Albany (which is pronounced al-BIN-ee, by the way). As I walked in and around those two little churches, I was struck by the David-and-Goliath nature of the struggle, and by what must have seemed impossible odds. But I was more struck by the deep, inner resources of the young people of the movement, grounded in faith and voiced in irrepressible song.

What I take for granted by Liz Kielley

June 14th, 2018

Something simple I take for granted is that wherever I travel I can find food, shelter, a place to get gas, and a bathroom. I didn’t realize that there was a Green book that listed accommodations for African-Americans so that they knew where it was safe to stop. That they had to carefully plan their trips so they wouldn’t run out of gas or be on the road at night. And you had to hope that the information was still correct. I learned that even Martin Luther King and his wife had to spend their wedding night in a black owned funeral home because no hotel would take them. These are basic rights: food and shelter. My heart grieves that the color of someone’s skin can deny them something so simple.

Greensboro Four – Susan Shannon

June 14th, 2018

I’m not emotional. I heard prior experiences from others who took this trip before me and thought, not me. I won’t cry.

Our first stop at Woolworth’s store/museum where 4 young men sat for service was moving. This tour is well choreographed with readings and videos and excellent conversations along the way. The bravery of those young men and many others was something. – Greensboro Four.

Are we still brave enough and persistent and patient enough to continue standing/sitting/kneeling today?

I know I struggle with patience.

At one point in the museum in Greensboro, name after name and story after story was presented of those who had been killed at the hands of those against the ideas of freedom. I want to make a list of all those continuing to be killed. Injustices continue in our society.

I want to stay strong, stand up, and speak out.

Yesterday we stopped in Atlanta and visited the MLK center…did I mention the conversations I’m having with those I’m traveling with?? Powerful.

Fred Shuttlesworth is my hero, by Jim LaGrand

June 14th, 2018

The Birmingham preacher and civil rights activist Fred Shuttlesworth is a hero of mine. It’s not only for his feats of daring and bravery, although there were plenty of those. He survived 3 bombings perpetrated by the Klan, the first of them on Christmas 1956. When the Klan tried to chase him out of town, he defiantly responded, “I wasn’t saved to run.” In 1957, he was jumped by a group of Klansmen and beaten with chains and brass knuckles while walking his daughters to the local (all-white) high school to enroll them. Shuttlesworth often said he would either kill segregation or be killed by it. His almost-supernatural bravery scared and awed some at the time.

Shuttlesworth is also heroic for his commitment to non-violence in the hardest, most challenging circumstances. He preached sermons about non-violence days, even hours, after being attacked or bombed. He devoted much of his life to his community and to Bethel church in the Collegeville neighborhood of Birmingham.

It was a privilege to visit Bethel church with the Returning to the Roots of the Civil Rights Movement tour group and a thrill to stand behind his pulpit now housed at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.