Note: A team from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire joins the 2015 winter Civil Rights Pilgrimage to document students' experiences and stories on the 10-day journey through history. Writer Shari Lau, videographer Glen Mabie and photographer Heidi Giacalone will provide daily updates from the pilgrimage highlighting the historic sites and people who fought for equality during the Civil Rights Movement.
All stories from the winter 2015 Civil Rights Pilgrimage can be read on the UW-Eau Claire news website.
Jan. 11, 2015
From a powerful church service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, to the site of mass brutality against demonstrators at Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, Alabama, UW-Eau Claire students experienced a stark contrast of emotions today.
We began the day with a warm welcome and peaceful message from Ebenezer's pastor and explored the sites at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. Students paused at the front of Dr. King's tomb and felt the warmth of the eternal flame that symbolizes continuing efforts toward equality. They walked in Historic Fire Station No. 6, the first integrated fire station in Atlanta, toured Dr. King's birthplace, and saw artifacts from Dr. King's life and career at Freedom Hall.
We left Atlanta with visions of a peaceful man adorned in robes preaching his messages at the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church and headed to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. It was there we saw a robe of a different kind.
"When I saw the Ku Klux Klan robe at the museum, I felt hatred and confusion," says Whisper Kappus-McDew, a UW-Eau Claire freshman from Eau Claire. "There was a lot I had to look away from at the museum and this was one of the most powerful pieces."
Kappus-McDew's uncle was a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, one of the most important organizations of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
"As I went through the museum, I tried to imagine what it was like for him and others in that time," says Kappus-McDew. "I put myself in their place and thought about how much fear and hope they must have felt and how strong they had to have been. I don't know if I could've done what they did."
Ending the day at Kelly Ingram Park, a central staging location for large demonstrations during the 1960s, brought the violence against the civil rights movement to life. It was at this site in May 1963 that Birmingham police and firemen were ordered to confront demonstrators with mass arrests, fire hoses and police dogs, garnering international attention and outcry.
"Today was powerful," says Kappus-McDew. "We need to take the information we gained and apply it as much as we can to our lives now in order to make changes."
Monday, the UW-Eau Claire Civil Rights Pilgrimage takes students to Montgomery, Alabama, named both the "Cradle of the Confederacy" and "Birthplace of Civil Rights."