Students Get a Closer Look at Roots of Civil Rights Movement Destination : The South
Kristina Lanier, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
When you send a group of students into the historic heart of the civil rights movement, don't expect them to return unchanged.
This summer, two programs will send young people to see for themselves where Martin Luther King Jr. led a march or riot police turned on protesters with fire hoses. When the students return, they'll be energized, informed, and profoundly aware of how much history texts omit.
Project Hip-Hop (Highways Into the Past History Organizing and Power), sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, has been taking Boston-area high school students to the South since 1993. College students get a chance, too, through the Overground Railroad/Agora Project, which serves students at the six private colleges in Kentucky, Indiana, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Ohio that make up the program. Both groups share a common goal: to give students a three- dimensional history lesson about issues like race and civic responsibility, and to make use of a precious living resource - people who were active in the civil rights movement. "The goal is to use history to ... emphasize that it took lots of people that felt this country needed help to realize its democratic potential," says Project Hip-Hop director Nancy Murray. "So they can say, 'Oh, that's how it happened' and see the role they can play in turning things around." If program designers hoped to give students a sense of history's connection to their own lives, then it worked. "I found answers to a lot of questions, like, 'Why are black people in the state of emergency they are today?' " says 1995 Project Hip-Hop participant Michael Fitzpatrick. "The answers are in the history." The groups visit places like the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Ala., the Ku Klux Klan Museum in Laurens, S.C., the site of the Greensboro sit-in in Greensboro, N. …