Blog: Spider Student-Athletes Take on Civil Rights Trail Tour

Five spider student-athletes have embarked upon a fall break tour of key civil rights sites throughout Georgia and Alabama as part of the department of athletics Civic Engagement and Co-Curricular Programming. Beginning in Atlanta, Ga., and traveling to Tuskegee, Montgomery, Selma, and Birmingham, Ala., student-athletes will engage through educational tours and speakers from Oct. 7-11.

Our group traveled from Montgomery to Selma, Ala. tracing back the route of the 1964 Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights March led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Selma was the site of Bloody Sunday, where countless incidents of racism and police brutality took place. When we arrived in the city of Selma, it was clear the dull brown town had deteriorated since the era of segregation. It presented decrepit buildings, abandoned structures and spanning the Alabama river was the rusty but historic Edmond Pettus Bridge. In the woods leading up from the water was Civil Rights Memorial Park, a place for reflection and reconciliation which contained memorials of black granite stone and various wooden markers that commemorated some of the leaders and foot soldiers of the march at Selma. Upon our arrival to the National Voting Rights Museum & Memorial, we were greeted by historian, Mr. Sam Walker, who provided a passionate and in-depth account of the days and sentiments leading up to Bloody Sunday and eventually the march from Selma to Montgomery . After his tour, we were able to walk through the museum which had many historical artifacts. For example, there were original newspaper clippings, first-hand images of Bloody Sunday, the casted foot-prints of some of the marchers, a recreated Selma jail cell, a segregated voting booth, a sanctuary pulpit, and “white” and “colored “water fountains, among other exhibits. These were just some of the things that opened up our eyes as a group to the horrors and realities of living in a segregated Alabama town during the 1950s and 60s. Our guide also traced back the roots of slaves to their African heritage all the way through to the Civil War. We had the opportunity to visit the Brown Chapel AME Church while in Selma, the church where Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached and brought together the foot soldiers of the historic march. In solidarity with the marchers, we ended our time in Selma by walking over the Edmond Pettus, to carry out our own small and reflective march in honor of those who walked this very path before us.

After our stint in Selma, we traveled to my (Quentin’s) grandparent’s house in Wilcox County, Alabama where we ate a delicious meal prepared by my grandmother. It was great seeing them being that I hadn’t visited in 5 years. My grandfather shared stories about how he used to pick cotton with his siblings when he was younger, and when he got older, returned to the same land to buy it and build his house where he now lives. This was just another example of how all the stories and exhibits we experienced over the course of our tour came to life by the people who actually experienced these things firsthand. The next day, we woke up in Birmingham, the last leg of our trip, ready to continue our learning journey. We first visited the Historic Bethel Baptist Church, where we learned how Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, started the civil rights movement in Birmingham. Our guides personally knew Rev. Shuttlesworth, and told us in depth stories about him, his personality, and approach to the movement after his home was bombed on Christmas Day in 1956. One of the main aspects that stood out to us, was that he was a man who, even in the midst of tragedy, came out smiling the very next day. Our day continued, as we visited other historic sites such as the AG Gaston Motel, Kelly Ingram Park, and the 16th Street Baptist Church. We had the opportunity to hear the story of Ms. Carolyn McKinstry, a Birmingham bombing survivor who now tells her experiences all over the world. To be able to listen to the first-hand accounts of so many people who lived through this movement, was one of the most impactful parts of this experience. While we are able to read and hear from others in a classroom setting, there is no better way to learn than directly from the source. Prior to returning back to Richmond, we discussed the importance of the work of those who came before us. There are so many student-athletes who have come through the University of Richmond and walked the same path that we are currently on. As a capstone, we were met by former University of Richmond two sport athlete, Brian Jordan. Mr. Jordan spoke to us about his experiences as a student-athlete at The University of Richmond and provided us with pertinent advice for the future. What an amazing experience this has been for all of us. Thank you to everyone who had a hand in making this possible and to those who have been reading and following along with us on this once in a lifetime journey. Until next time – Go Spiders!