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Selma March and slavery reenactments among students’ civil rights journey

This week more than 70 University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students are learning about the civil rights movement by visiting historic sites, participating in slavery and Selma march reenactments, and talking with people who were part of the civil rights era's most influential and memorable events.

Given the racial unrest and protests happening around the country in recent months and the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery, Alabama, voting rights march, students on the 2015 Winterim Civil Rights Pilgrimage are finding the experience to be especially meaningful as they try to understand the history of race in the United States as well as current events tied to issues of race.

Students will return from their 10-day journey on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday, Jan. 19.

The Civil Rights Pilgrimage is a student-planned immersive experience that is offered every Winterim and spring break. What started in 2008 as an alternate spring break trip has grown into an experience that attracts students from all majors, all ethnicities and all socioeconomic backgrounds. Students regularly report that the trip has a lasting impact on their thinking and understanding around civil rights and racial issues in our country. Other universities now are replicating the program on their campuses.

You can find stories from the 2015 January trip on UW-Eau Claire's news site.

Quotes from students on the 2015 Winterim Civil Rights Pilgrimage:

  • "I've learned about slavery my entire life. 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. When the slave master had us at auction, she told the buyers we were fresh from West Africa. 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 " -- Ingrid Sabah, freshman from Burnsville, Minnesota, after participating in a slavery reenactment in Selma, Ala.
  • "I'm biracial and grew up more on the white side of my family, so this experience is helping me learn more about my African-American heritage. I've learned that the civil rights movement wasn't just about the major people like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., it was about the little people too. The people who took part in the protests and marches. We lost a lot of people to make a bigger change. All of those deaths made a difference."-- Larrick Potvin, Brooklyn Center, Minn.
  • "When I saw the Ku Klux Klan robe at the museum (Birmingham Civil Rights Institute), I felt hatred and confusion. There was a lot I had to look away from at the museum and this was one of the most powerful pieces. As I went through the museum, I tried to imagine what it was like for him and others in that time. 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." -- Whisper Kappus-McDew, a freshman from Eau Claire whose uncle was a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, one of the most important organizations of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
  • "While we were marching, I thought about my desire to advocate for others. I have a brother with special needs and have seen the needs that are not being met. Through my degree in social work I want to make that difference for other people and help them get the things they need. I want to be a resource and source of power who advocates for others and shows them that they are people who can't be shoved off to the side." -- Kristen Heller, a senior social work major from Random Lake, after participating in a reenactment of the 1965 Selma voting rights march known as "Bloody Sunday."

Contact information:

For more information about the trip or to arrange to talk with students who participated in the 2015 Winterim Civil Rights Pilgrimage, contact Jodi Thesing-Ritter at Thesing-Ritter mentors students who plan the trips and has joined students on each of the trips since they began in 2008.

Additional photos and video:

A writer, photographer and videographer from UW-Eau Claire accompanied students on the 2015 Winterim Civil Rights Pilgrimage. To learn about additional photos and video available for media use, contact Judy Berthiaume at 715-836-4745 or