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From slavery to civil rights: Living centuries of injustice

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. 13, 2015

Fear and tension penetrated the darkness as we huddled together, unaware of what was to come. The only sounds were weeps and moans as we clung to each other for support.

Tuesday's slavery reenactment in Selma, Alabama, touched every one of the UW-Eau Claire students who participated in the sobering experience. The activity provided a meager glimpse into the experiences of Africans during the voyage west from their homeland to the United States, where they were sold into slavery.

"I've learned about slavery my entire life," said Ingrid Sabah, a freshman from Burnsville, Minnesota. "I knew about the conditions Africans were kept in on the slave boats. About the rats and piles of feces, but being in that environment, in the dark, was very chilling."

The slavery reenactment made a significant impact on Sabah, causing her to think deeply about her own roots and place in African-American history. She was born in Togo in West Africa and immigrated to the United States when she was two years old.

"When the slave master had us at auction, she told the buyers we were fresh from West Africa," Sabah said. "I'm from West Africa. If I had been born during that time that could've been my story. That would've been me begging my master to save my children. That would've been me singing songs of freedom and hope."

Sabah also saw herself in the people of the civil rights movement, especially of those from Selma.

"As an immigrant in the 1960s, I likely would've ended up living in the south," Sabah said. "I would've been fighting for my rights and joining in the marches. I feel like I've lived 400 years all at once. This has been the most important experience of the trip for me personally. Before this trip, I always thought how could the slave masters do that to 'them?' Now I think, how could they do that to me? To us?"

Wednesday, the students will participate in a reenactment of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and then make the journey to New Orleans.