Earlier this month, 23 seventh and eighth graders from the Telluride Mountain School (TMS) embarked on a 12-day trip through Georgia and Alabama where they visited major sites of the civil rights movement, a key component of their history curriculum.
Four teachers led and planned the trip: Jesse McTigue, director of curriculum and instruction and humanities teacher, humanities teacher Mary Hearding, math teacher Paul Hearding and music teacher and head of the Rock & Roll Academy, Brett Neuman.
“This is one of TMS’s legacy trips,” said McTigue. “I think the first iteration of this trip was in 2003.”
Seventh graders Marshall Humphries and Mateo Bubolo and eighth graders Sofia Canclini and Finn Trommer had never visited the deep south before.
“It put everything in perspective because you actually see everything,” said Humphries.
This was also the first time McTigue had traveled through the South and she was inspired by how various communities are “owning and presenting their histories.”
“Getting kids to see how these sorts of things occur and that they continue to occur,” explained McTigue. “Having this pretty emotional, academic experience that allows kids to reflect is really special.”
The first stop was Atlanta, Georgia, birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr., where students took a bike tour of the MLK Historic District and visited the Center for Civil and Human Rights where they experienced a lunch counter simulation.
“I didn’t think the sit-in’s were going to be that violent until I actually got to see what it was like,” recounted Bubolo. “It was more threatening.”
In Montgomery, Alabama, students visited the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Civil Rights Memorial designed by Maya Lin.
One of the most impactful visits was to the Legacy Museum — Equal Justice Initiative, which opened last year. Built on the site of an old slave auctioning building, the museum is linked to the national Memorial for Peace and Justice, otherwise known as the Lynching Memorial.
“It was really emotional,” Trommer said. “They did a really good job of conveying what life was like.”
Students also visited the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church where MLK, Jr. served as minister and where the Montgomery boycotts began.
In Selma, Alabama, students toured with long-standing TMS contact Louretta Wimberly, herself a vital part of the national voting rights movement, who introduced them to Bruce Boynton and other civil rights activists.
“Selma was a highlight of the trip because it was very interesting to hear what Boynton had to say about everything,” said Bubolo. “It was cool to see somebody who actually marched on Selma.”
Wimberly led students on a tour of historic churches including the First Baptist of Selma and Brown Chapel and to the National Voting Rights Museum. Together they walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of the Bloody Sunday conflict in 1965 when armed police brutally beat civil rights demonstrators.
“We met people who were around when Bloody Sunday happened,” said Canclini. “It brought everything to life and was really impactful to hear their stories.”
The morning before they attended a service at the historic 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, students discussed MLK Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham,” an open letter that defends the strategy of nonviolent resistance to racism.
Inspired by the adventure, Humphries decided to do his immersion project on the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and how it impacted the growth of the civil rights movement.
When the students ventured outside the church to Kelly Ingram Park, which served as a central staging ground for large-scale demonstrations during the civil rights movement, a Bernie Sanders rally happened to be taking place.
“So we attended, without any intention of influencing the kids politically,” said McTigue. “Rather to witness as citizens the words of someone who is running for the Democratic nomination.”
In Huntsville, Alabama, students visited the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, a new addition to the itinerary brought by Paul Hearding. The night before the first day of space camp, they watched the film “Hidden Figures” in a conference room at their hotel.
The final stop of the trip was to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, another new addition to the itinerary brought by Neuman. Muscle Shoals is a city known since the 1960’s for its namesake sound.
“It was one of the first studios to integrate colored and white musicians — where they realized music is music and race doesn’t matter — and it was a unique experience,” explained Trommer. “My parents are jealous.”
Students returned to Telluride with new inspiration.
“I’m inspired to make good change and make everybody equal and to treat everybody equal,” Bubolo said.
“I totally agree with Teo,” said Canclini. “We learned about so many kids who had just as much struggle as the adults. They were beaten, lynched, put in jail — so many cruel things. I’m grateful that the U.S. has evolved and moved past that.”
Mary Hearding is overseeing consequent student immersion projects which include a series of three blogs and a class-created website that chronicle the trip. Students will present a slideshow of their trip to the TMS community at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow (Monday).
Telluride Daily Planet Coordinator