UW, Bellevue College Students Travel Through The South On A Civil Rights Pilgrimage
Race has been front and center in this year’s presidential election. This week, University of Washington and Bellevue College students are gaining a deeper understanding of the history of the struggle for civil rights in the U.S. by visiting landmarks in the South such as Montgomery, Alabama; site of the 1955-56 bus boycott that began after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man.
This is the third such trip UW communications professor David Domke has organized and it’s grown from 31 people the first year.
“Now we’re 54 people from three different colleges and a very interracial, intergenerational, diverse group in all kinds of ways,” Domke said.
The third university is Utah State, where a former UW graduate student is now a professor.
About half the group is adult community members who cover part of the cost for the undergraduates on the trip, Domke said.
Laura Robles, a UW senior who grew up in Burien, said she’s been inspired to learn about female civil rights leaders, such as Autherine Lucy, who became the first African-American to enroll at the University of Alabama but then faced angry, dangerous mobs and was barred by the university from attending.
“Without these women activists, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Robles said.
Davon White, a second-year student at UW who grew up in Tacoma, said he wanted to come on the trip to learn more about civil rights history than he had been taught in public school.
“This is actually my first time leaving Washington, so being in the South for my first trip is kind of significant to me and I’m learning about my roots and where my people came from,” White said.
White said that visiting Little Rock, Arkansas, is especially meaningful to him because of the bravery of the Little Rock 9, the African-American students who braved mobs of shouting white people as well as the Arkansas National Guard in their fight to integrate Central High School.
White is 19 years old and will vote in his first presidential election this year. He said he’s been disturbed by the anti-immigrant rhetoric in this campaign and when he hears catch phrases such as “make America great again,” he’s reminded of more painful parts of our history.
“When you talk about going backwards, it’s like you’re talking about going toward segregation, going toward slavery, just basically going back and isolating each other and dividing groups up and dividing people from coming together and standing up for a common cause,” he said.
The trip will give White and the rest of the group an opportunity to reflect on how important it is to be able to vote. They’ll take part in a commemoration of Bloody Sunday, when voting rights activists in Selma, Alabama, were attacked by state troopers with clubs and tear gas.