KNOXVILLE—The civil rights movement of the 1960s was started and perpetuated by college students who risked their safety and even their lives for the cause. History professor Cynthia Fleming is taking her own University of Tennessee, Knoxville, college students back to the scene of these events to revisit history through firsthand accounts.
With the help of UT’s Ready for the World initiative, Fleming will take her spring 2012 civil rights mini-term class on the road so her fifteen students can visit historical sites in Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama associated with the civil rights movement.
Fleming is an oral historian and has interviewed numerous people involved in the civil rights movement. She’s tapped into some of her contacts so her students can hear from archivists, scholars, and activists themselves to get the full view of what took place.
Students will begin by spending time in a classroom learning about the history of the Civil Rights Movement, part of which involves watching the documentary Eyes on the Prize, profiling the movement through archival footage of demonstrations and police brutality, as well as interviews of people involved first-hand.
The next step is a class road trip to visit significant places and meet people who were involved in the movement.
The first stop on the itinerary is Atlanta. There, students will meet one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s closest associates and an original Freedom Rider. The group will then tour Ebenezer Baptist Church where King preached.
Moving on to Montgomery, Alabama, students will visit the Rosa Parks Museum, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, which King pastored and Parks attended, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization started by lawyers wanting to fight hate groups.
Then the group will make its way to Selma, Alabama, to retrace the steps of demonstrators who were tear-gassed on the Edmund Pettus Bridge and meet people who participated in the march.
In Selma, Fleming will conduct an interview with Annie Pearl Avery, who was a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was an active participant in the civil rights movement. The class will sit in on the interview.
The third and final day of the trip will be spent in Birmingham visiting the Civil Rights Institute, meeting a former student of Fleming’s who is now a professor at Stanford working in civil rights, retracing King’s Easter Sunday march that landed him in jail, and visiting the 16th Street Baptist Church that was bombed in 1963, marking a turning point in the civil rights movement.
Finally, the group will head home, but not until they stop at Fleming’s favorite local soul food establishment.
“This course is great because there is a combination of not just seeing places featured in clips from the documentary that began the course, but meeting face-to-face individuals whom they saw in the film being beaten for taking a stand,” Fleming said.
After returning home, the students will meet to debrief and reflect on the trip. Fleming said she’s excited to see how the class and road trip change the students’ view of civil rights movement.
This marks her third class trip of this kind. “The previous two were amazing successes, so I am excited about what this one will bring,” Fleming said.
With thirty years invested in teaching at UT, Fleming is planning to retire soon and says this may be her last road trip with students.
Fleming has written three books, Soon We Will Not Cry: The Liberation of Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, The Chicago Handbook for Teachers, and In the Shadow of Selma: The Continuing Struggle for Civil Rights in the Rural South. She has a forthcoming book, titled A Crisis of Victory: Black Leadership in the New Millennium.
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