What I keep thinking about….

June 18th, 2021

Todd has arranged this tour so well, with appropriate documentaries, movies and music setting the stage for each stop. Life is busy, and it’s good to have the time to watch, read and learn, focused totally on the Civil Rights period, and, for me, what it has to say about the time we currently live in. And that’s exactly what I keep coming back to. I’m from Minnesota, and the events there surrounding George Floyd’s murder have been heavy on my mind for the past year. Over and over, in the things I read and hear on this trip, I see that the excuses that have been made in the past year to counter anti-racism and Black Lives Matter initiatives, for example, are exactly what was said in the 1960’s. Nothing we’ve seen in this past year is really new. This troubles me so much. Would our friends and families, or would WE have been the ones fighting integration if we had lived through the 1960’s? We like to think that we’ve come so far, but really, have we?

Roseann Sachs

Day 7 – The Power and Legacy of Music

June 18th, 2021

The importance and role of music has been one of the themes throughout this bus tour. Today we visited the recently opened National Museum of African American Music in Nashville, Tennessee. It is worth a trip to visit Nashville even if this is all you decide to experience! The exhibits were fun, engaging, informative, and aesthetically brilliant. There are touchscreens where you can download playlists of music from 1619 to the present. There are also different interactive rooms where you can put on a robe and sing with a gospel choir, follow along with a dance instructor as you dance to different eras of music, etc. All of this is recorded and then emailed to you. As a public historian, I loved all of this.

As I toured the museum, I reflected on the history of music, including the beauty and culture enslaved Africans and black Americans brought to what is currently the U.S.

There are songs to express resilience and solidarity – “We Shall Overcome” or Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Music to worship and express joy – “Oh Happy Day.” Songs of resistance during slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, i.e. “Wade in the Water.” Songs of lament, grief, and protest like Abel Meeropol’s “Strange Fruit” (famously performed by Billie Holiday which led to her arrest numerous times). Music that empowered and celebrated black pride including James Brown’s “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Powerful lyrical words of protest and political struggle like Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” and Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar’s “Freedom.”

Our world is a better place because of this art.

Sarah P. Myers

Roots of Joy

June 18th, 2021

Pertaining to the theme of “returning to the roots” of civil rights, from day to day we examine the real foundations that America was built on. The mass importation of slaves begun the plantations that fed the white population, and, even after being freed, the justice system was built with its walls isolating the colored from white in any way possible. Visiting the Stax Records Museum yesterday and the National Museum for African American Music, we learn how intertwined the music and movements were. In the oppressed African American culture, music manifested in communication and sermons.

You can’t have a movement without music. It simply would not survive. (Paraphrased)

There is so much life in these areas. And the life tells the city’s story. Memphis, in its glaze from the setting sun, is teeming with life and diversity. On the other hand, Nashville, predominantly white, was one of the first southern cities to publicly desegregate, but it still did not allow colored musicians to play.

All in all, we need a way to express ourselves, the change we need, and the world we want to see one day.

Faith without works is dead. A movement without music is dead.

Jon Sison

Sixth day- the Dream

June 18th, 2021

Pretty relaxed day, but even more to learn about the movement and the history of America.

Music. Music has always been important in my life and my family as well. My brother plays the drums at our church and my sister and mother sing in the church choir. My father has been in numerous singing groups growing up. Me, no I just listen to the music and appreciate it.

Going to the Stax museum was fun and educational. Learning the history of soul music and how the importance of Soul and the influence it had on communities. Not only did music bring joy to the people but it brought different types of people together. Integrating different types of styles into music was another way that people bonded.

Nowadays sports and other sorts of entertainment have brought us together even though there is a lot of work to be one. It gives me hope that the dream is alive and slowly but surely it will come true.

Nathan Ncube

Fifth Day- Faith

June 18th, 2021

One of the days that I have been looking forward to. Even though I thought Mr. Stevenson was going to surprise us it still was a great day to just learn and be woken up about the things that transpired and are still going on today.

At the Legacy Museum, it was vivid the hurt that has been caused to the African Americans. Being stripped of their identity and forced to acclimate to a whole new world and learn a new culture, language at a pace that was painful, and degrading was a challenge.

We think that the world is changing but like Mr. Stevenson says, “Mass incarceration is modern-day slavery.” This shows the illegal things that had been oppressing black people are just being made legal nowadays. It is a sad reality that is taking place, but if we call ourselves ambassadors of Christ then we should do what it takes to fight for what is right just like Jesus did in the temple and on the cross.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice where normal citizens like me, and you are celebrated. These citizens were brutally killed just to have a normal life like you and me. Some of the people there are from the ’50s which is not ancient history, that’s when some of our grandparents and parent were born.

I think the saddest part was some of the descriptions of the people that have been killed after slavery was abolished still resonated with some of the deaths that are still going on nowadays.

Leaving this museum, I was sad and hurt from the treatment of people that are the same in the eyes of God.

We then went to 16th street Baptist Church and go to see where the bomb was placed and the memorial of the beautiful young ladies that passed away. Seeing it with your naked eyes just hits different. I felt so much aggression. 4 little girls who had a bright future just to be brutally killed like that is angering and inhuman.

Meeting Mrs. McKinstry (who was friends with the girls) and Ms. McNair who was the sister of one of the girls that passed was another testimony that this is not ancient history. There is so much hatred in our land and sin.

Both speakers encouraged us to hold steadfast faith because “without faith you are nothing.”

Nathan Ncube

Day 6: Music as a Barrier Breaker

June 18th, 2021

Today marked a tri-state journey from Alabama to Tennessee and Mississippi. It was a much more lighthearted day with some fun stops for photos, walking through a drive-thru to order, exploring the vibrant Beale Street of Memphis, and most notably experiencing the Stax Records Museum of American Soul Music.

I am not fluent in my soul music, and that’s a generous way of putting it. I learned an extraordinary amount today about the importance of Soul and the influence it had on communities. Music has been shown to be a powerful stimulus in the movement but seeing Soul in the public sector helped to show me the transcendence of music.

Booker T. & the M.G.’s was a prevalent band that worked with Stax Records throughout the 60’s and 70’s. Not only where they widely acclaimed, but they were also an interracial band, with two white men and two black men comprising it. In a time of segregation, their love of music inspired these men to overcome the social norms and work one developing a genre that celebrated African American history with their melodies which were incorporated with secular lyrics.

I recognize now then that music not only a bringer of joy in the face of adversity, but it can help to inspire people to go beyond their own culture. These four men were all clearly not segregationists, but the fact that they could find popularity in a segregated society speaks to the power of music.

I pray that we may continue to have these joy-bringing moments in life that serve as a catalyst to deconstruct social barriers. I pray that music will continue to fill our hearts and that it will continue to let us feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. I pray for those who have hardened hearts to find that which softs their resistance to love and the transformative power of the Gospel.

Matt Jenkins

Memphis, Tennessee

June 17th, 2021

Visiting the Stax museum has been a completely different experience for me than the other sites we have visited over the course of the past week. The old recording studio located in Memphis, Tennessee produced music for so many talented musicians which were both black and white. It was the one place where individuals could coexist freely and see each other for their talents, as opposed to their skin color or generational stereotyping. This honestly was very hopeful for me because soul music reached so many people. Individuals were able to connect to the music even in other countries when musicians and singers went on tour. It was so interesting to see how soul music originated from a combination of the blues, gospel, and country music.

Day 5: Christianity & the Prison System

June 17th, 2021

Today was the most emotionally intensive day. We began in the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum, which chronicled the evolution of slavery to mass incarceration and the death penalty. The evolution of slavery to lynching to the death penalty was something I was made aware of because of earlier exposure to the Equal Justice Initiative’s work. Mass incarceration and the death penalty are some of the battleground issues for racial equality, and I was most excited for this museum as I knew it would be what identified the pressing needs of our society. But I was infuriated at the museum by a quote by John Ehrlichman, who was Richard Nixon’s chief of domestic policy. Here is the following quote:

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

The admission of a top Nixon official that the intent of the administration in some of its most prominent action was to completely destroy communities is a blatant attack on democracy. To undermine the very core of a community with incarceration as a weapon highlights the injustice in the prison system. And yet, the legislature has failed to atone for the creation of these inequities. Instead, the support for this new Jim Crow remains.

The rest of the day was greatly informative as well, as we visited the EJI’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice which remembers those who were lynched and honors their memory by ensuring they are not forgotten. We saw the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham and met with Carolyn McKinstry, a survivor and friend of the four children killed in the bombing of the church. We also heard from Lisa McNair, the sister of Denise McNair who was killed in the bombing. We heard of their loss and their pain brought about by the hatred of others.

And yet, there is a deep misunderstanding that some of the institutions that exist today were not products of that hatred. Nixon, as Watergate would reveal, acted in his own interest instead of acting according to the rights of the people. Which has prompted me to consider more critically how a prison system can become more just and what is the nature of justice. Could it be the case that the justice system, rather than punitive, could become reformative: Rather than retributive, could it become reconciliatory?

As a Christian, I believe we are compelled to act in according to reconciliation. As Ms. McKinstry pointed out, it is the very narrative of the Bible that people come to reconcile to God by the atonement of Jesus Christ. The current prison system seeks no reconciliation, only punishment. Where are the sentencings that seek to educate and integrate individuals back into society? That seek to return the humanity back to all people? As I have heard throughout this week, Martin Luther King spoke of bigotry as a disease that must be cured. How can the victim have their humanity returned, and the perpetrator be cured, if there is no reconciliation? The perpetuation of sin is self-sustaining: it is in the fallen nature of humanity. It is only by the intervention of Jesus, by way of reconciliation via the atonement, that this cycle of sin can be broken.

So, I pray for the cycle of sin to be broken in our systems. I pray for the children who were sentenced to live their life in prison, a far more cruel death sentence, and for those serving sentences for chemical dependencies that they struggle to overcome. I pray for those who continue to fail to offer humanity to those who are human, and I pray for a system that may bring shalom.

Matt Jenkins

Day 6 – I AM A MAN

June 17th, 2021

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his last speech, “I’ve been to the Mountaintop,” at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee on April 3, 1968. Delivered the day before he was tragically assassinated, Dr. King was in Memphis in support of sanitation workers on strike.

Black sanitation workers wanted the same pay, working conditions, and rights as white sanitation workers. They wore “I AM A MAN” placards, referencing a 19th century abolitionist campaign which featured a woodcut image of an enslaved man and the words, “Am I not a man and a brother?”

Today we visited the “I AM A MAN” Plaza in Memphis and read Dr. King’s last speech:

“The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around…But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.”

These prophetic final words are heartbreaking given that he was murdered the next day. They are also heartbreaking because these words still ring true for the U.S. Our nation is still sick. There is still trouble in this land and confusion. People in this country are still crying out for freedom.

As I considered Dr. King’s words today, my heart is particularly heartbroken over the struggle of black Americans. The desire the same human rights and equality has evaded them since slavery was introduced to the indigenous lands we now call the U.S. The current Black Lives Matter movement is simply crying out for equality.

Now, a lot of white Americans do not see this struggle. They do not see the myriad of privileges that they have simply for being considered white. They do not notice that white culture is the dominant culture in the U.S. Their eyes and hearts are closed. They dehumanize those associated with the current BLM movement, as white Americans did during the Civil Rights Movement.

The work of equality and human rights is not finished. Let us heed Dr. King’s words: “the greatness of America is the right to protest for right.”

Sarah P. Myers

Day 6: The Power of the Spoken, Written and Sung Word

June 17th, 2021

Today we traveled to Memphis to STAX Museum of American Soul Music which began in 1957 in a back-street garage and became a multi-million dollar organization.  It traces the roots of spirituals, gospel music and the gospel choir, to blues and soul. “Blues commands the present moment, demanding that you forget the woes of your past and deal with the trials ahead. It demands that you get into this song and this feeling right now and, like gospel, give yourself entirely over to the inspiration”. (STAX exhibit)

The irony of STAX is that prior to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., it was a manifestation of the “dream” of effective integration. Within the 4 walls of STAX color was not an issue for the musicians or administrators, even though it was in the midst of a highly segregated and troubled city.

Music was used to inspire, unify and give purpose to the Freedom Riders and other protesters, whether marching or sitting in jail.  Music was used by a favorite radio DJ, Shelley Stewart, speaking in code on the radio to communicate plans about the march.  The morning of “D-Day” (May 2, 1963) “Shelley the Playboy” announced that he hoped they had their toothbrushes packed and you’re ready, with toothbrushes being code that they might spend the night in jail.

The written and spoken word is powerful.  Here are some quotes that have been meaningful to me from the trip or readings:

“If slavery isn’t wrong, nothing is wrong”.  – Abraham Lincoln

“Slavery is the next thing to hell”. – Harriet Tubman

MLK stated that there were two Americas, one “overflowing with the miracle of prosperity and the honey of opportunity” and the other America “perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”. – MLK

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”- MLK

And finally, a poem on a pillar at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice by Elizabeth Alexander, entitled Invocation is a powerful tribute to those who were horrifically lynched.


The wind brings your names.

We will never dissever your names

Nor your shadows beneath each branch and tree.

The truth comes in on the wind, is carried by water.

There is such a thing as the truth.  Tell us

How you got over, Say, Soul look back in wonder.

Your names were never lost,

Each name a holy word.

The rocks cry out –

Call out each name to sanctify this place.

Sounds in human voices, silver or soil,

A moan, a sorrow song,

A keen, a cackle, harmony,

A hymnal, handbook, cart,

A sacred text, a stomp, an exhortation.

Ancestors, you will find us still in cages,

Despised and disciplined.

You will find us still misnamed.

Here you will find us despite.

You will not find us extinct.

You will find us here memoried and storied.

You will find us here mighty.

You will find us here divine.

You will find us where you left us, but not as you left us.

Here you endure and are luminous.

You are not lost to us.

The wind carries sorrows, sighs, and shouts.

The wind brings everything. Nothing is lost. – Elizabeth Alexander