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The battle for freedom

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. 16, 2015

The fight for civil rights began long before the protests and marches of the 1960s. Long before the sit-ins and Freedom Rides. It has been a pursuit from the time the first African was brought to the United States and sold into slavery.

On Friday, UW-Eau Claire students toured the Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, Mississippi, where they learned about the 1863 surrender of Vicksburg by the Confederate Army during the Civil War and the important role African-Americans played in the Union's victory.

During the Civil War, the first African-American regimen in U.S. military history was created, and because of the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry's courage in the 1862 Battle of Island Mound in Missouri, the Union Army allowed almost 200,000 African-Americans to fight in the Civil War against the Confederates. Both free African-Americans and runaway slaves joined the fight.

"Touring Vicksburg and learning about the Civil War is very significant to learning about civil rights," said Jack Junker, a junior psychology and sociology major from Milwaukee. "The Civil War and beginning of the fight for equality between blacks and whites was a preview of what was to happen in the Civil Rights Movement. For example, black men who fought in the Civil War were still denied their civil rights much like those who fought in the Vietnam War, even though they fought side by side with white men."

The Vicksburg National Military Park is the first national park to erect an African-American monument. The Vicksburg stop is new to this year's Civil Rights Pilgrimage and was recommended by Tim Swenson, one of the bus drivers who has participated in the pilgrimage since its start in 2008.

Saturday, the pilgrimage stops at Little Rock Central High School, where in 1957 a group of African-American students, who became known as the "Little Rock Nine," were an international focal point in the struggle for the integration of U.S. public schools mandated by the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education