Today@Sam Article

Honors Students Take Civil Rights Tour

May 31, 2022
SHSU Media Contact: Campbell Atkins

SHSU Students in group trip to MLK home. Sam Houston State University honor students had a chance to step outside a standard classroom setting and immerse themselves in living, breathing history across the American South in May. Seven students traveled the historic footsteps of suffering and progression on their eight-day journey that covered slavery and the Civil War through the Civil Rights Movement and beyond. The tour was led through an honors course by SHSU professors Jeffrey Littlejohn and Kristin Henze in the Elliott T. Bowers Honors College. 

“It was an eye-opening experience for the students,” said Littlejohn. “Everybody has studied racism, discrimination and slavery, but this trip was really about studying that history on the ground, going to the best museums in the country on the subject and seeing the original historical sites.”

The trip took the group to destinations in Mississippi such as Natchez and Vicksburg, where they studied the slave trade and one of the Civil War’s most pivotal battles, as well as Montgomery, Selma and Birmingham in Alabama, where the Civil Rights Movement gained steam in the 1960s.

“Through this class and all of the places we visited, we got to see the actual experiences that these people had to go through during that time period,” said Lesli Garcia, one of the honor students who attended the trip. “My favorite part was the Equal Justice Initiative Museum in Montgomery. It made you really reflect on how we still face these issues today in other forms. We have come so far but there is so much that needs to continue to be done so that people can feel like they receive the justice they deserve.”

The trip even inspired Garcia to consider a new career trajectory. She majors in criminal justice and psychology and has always had law school in the back of her mind but had not yet been sure about pursuing it.

“Because of this trip, I decided I really want to be a lawyer and become a voice for others,” said Garcia. “It was really life changing.”

While the goal of the week was to learn, the students also had a chance to step back and enjoy their newfound surroundings as well as each other’s company. Both Littlejohn and Henze, along with some of the students, consider themselves ardent baseball fans and were treated to a Montgomery Biscuits Minor League game. Littlejohn joked that, due to the team’s unique mascot, they simply could not pass up the opportunity.

“As a historian, I spend my professional days studying history, but we also wanted the students to have an opportunity to decompress a little bit, socialize with one another and share their ideas,” said Littlejohn. “It was a good opportunity to get them into their comfort zones, hear them talk about the trip itself and really get more personal with them about their experience at Sam and what they are hoping to do with their degrees.”

Student Katherine Shaver said the baseball game came at a perfect time since it was after a particularly emotional day at the Equal Justice Initiative and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice (informally referred to as the National Lynching Memorial).

“It was a very somber and serious day, so we kind of needed that levity,” said Shaver, who majors in English and history. “It also made us more than just a study group. We were able to have more personal conversations there, so that was a fun experience.”

Like Garcia, Shaver described the trip as a life changing experience, particularly their day of reflection at the lynching memorial.

Students visit Equal Justice Initiative Museum in Montgomery“That day was the most impactful of the entire trip,” said Shaver. “It is something that every person should see and was very real. Being a mom, I think it hit a whole lot differently than it did for others. I studied this and I knew this stuff but being in it and getting to see the actual sites is different. Thank you to the whole school for putting it on.”

Student Haylee Cranston, also a history major with a minor in secondary education, says the trip did wonders for her aspirations of becoming a U.S. history teacher at the high school level.

“I have been passionate about and studied history for years, yet I have never had an experience like this where I could be there, in the exact spot where some of the most notorious events in U.S. history happened,” said Cranston, who hopes to change the “sugar coated” curriculum she was taught at a young age when she enters the classroom. “This trip reminded me of my reason for being here at Sam and gave me a much-needed push to continue on with my studies.” 

While the group hit numerous historical sites on their trip, Littlejohn acknowledged the main inspiration for the journey was to visit the Equal Rights Initiative and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

Other students to attend the trip included Lea Moore, Haugi Cardona, Matthew Malyon and Star Red Cloud-Owen. This was the second year this trip took place and the SHSU Elliott T. Bowers Honors College sponsored travel expenses for the students.

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