A Gateway for the Futureby Luke Gascho
Planning is a gateway for the future. A gateway creates a transition between one space and another, links from one time to another and makes possible interactions among diverse people.
A Pilgrimage of Peace:
A gateway for the future
Goshen College students study civil rights era during May term on storied soilBy Jennifer Rupp ’06
In Memphis, Tenn., in front of the Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot, Molly Moyer experienced feelings that would not have been inspired by a textbook or even watching a documentary.
“I don’t think that I’d realized how much being in the actual location of such an event could impact someone,” said Moyer (So., San Diego, Calif.). “The thing that really got me was that before you saw the spot where he was killed, you saw a video of the people who were with him in his last moments. I just really connected with that. They made [King] so very real and personal, and then to see the place where he was killed was just really powerful.”
Through a May term class, nine students traveled through the American South to sites of meaning and meeting people who experienced the civil rights movement first-hand.
Group leader Dean Johnson, assistant professor of peace, justice and conflict studies and director of the Plowshares grant, said, “The biggest thing is that students get to actually see where some events took place. It allows you to deal with all the senses and feel the sorrow and anxiety. It’s different to see something in a video or book than to be there in real life. It’s touching history in a way that you just can’t do in a classroom.”
The fact that the group was composed of only white individuals both raised interesting questions and created some boundaries for the group to overcome. “It was hard at the beginning of the trip when we realized we were going to be an all-white group,” said Moyer. “I think it somehow made us feel intrusive.”
Throughout their trip, the class visited places where historic events took place, such as sites of early “sit-ins,” demonstrations, meetings, the homes of key individuals, as well as museums, universities and churches connected to the movement. “There is a lot to learn from the movement that is still very relevant,” said Johnson. “We need to try to learn from what has been done, to be inspired and see how it relates and impacts our lives in positive ways.”
The tour was not just about what happened 40 or 50 years ago according to Matt Troyer, a 2005 graduate from Shickley, Neb., but was very relevant to issues surrounding the ongoing consequences of civil rights. “We witnessed through stories and personal experience that racism, sexism, militarism and materialism are still very alive and very real, although perhaps more covert than they were in the past,” he said.
Moyer said, “We had to get out of our usual setting and confront some serious issues and ask some serious questions about the state of the world today.”
A question at the forefront of Troyer’s mind through the entire journey was wondering what happened to the dream of the movement. By the end of the tour and course, he came to feel that the movement didn’t die with the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and other martyrs for the cause. “It continues today in the words of thousands of simple, average humans around the world that are combating the evils brought to the forefront of our consciousness by the civil rights freedom movement,” he said.
Troyer summed up the civil rights tour when he said, “It was a way for us to get out of Goshen and learn about the freedom movement from people who had been there, learn about how the dream is still being manifested by people today and help us focus our calling as a community of Christians to witness to the broader society about the reign of our God – a God of peace, a God of love, a God of justice.”