Moved by the Movement for Civil Rights
This story is re-posted from the Orlando Sentinel and originally appeared in its June 10, 2013 online edition. The Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice (UUCSJ) offers "Civil Rights Justice Journeys" - click here to learn more. -Ed.
Unitarian teens tour civil rights battlefields
By Jeff Kunerth, Orlando Sentinel, June 10, 2013
The luggage kept cascading out the back of the two Dodge Grand Caravans as 10 teenagers from Orlando's University Unitarian Universalist Society prepared Monday for a five-day tour of civil-rights memorials and museums.
Once everything was secured, the teens and their three adult chaperones embarked in what passes for vacation Bible school for Unitarians — a road trip to visit the battlefields of the civil-rights movement.
John Mowbray, the church chaperone who organized the trip, said the struggle for civil rights speaks to the first two principles of the Unitarian Universalist faith: "the inherent worth and dignity of every person" and "justice, equality and compassion in human relations."
"I'm hoping the kids have a deeper appreciation for the civil-rights movement and what blacks were up against fighting for their rights and human dignity," said Mowbray, 47, of Sanford.
They prepared for their trip with a month of studying the players, places and events that pitted the principles of peaceful disobedience against bombs, beatings and murders. Before that, they had little understanding of what took place in the South during the 1960s.
Maxwell Miner, a 17-year-old senior at Oviedo High School, said the history of civil rights he learned in school was limited to Rosa Parks and the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
"It really didn't get into any detail," Miner said.
But studying for the trip, the teens have been digging deeper into the era — from the marches, sit-ins and protests to Freedom Riders, voter registration and school integration.
"It's been kind of eye-opening that it all really happened and it was more of a movement than a brief turbulence in history," Miner said.
Part of the preparation for their visits to Atlanta, Montgomery, Selma and Birmingham, Ala., was a talk Sunday by historian and civil-rights activist Rodney L. Hurst Sr., who called the civil-rights movement "the most misreported, underreported and nonreported era in the history of this country."
Hurst, who led lunch-counter sit-ins as a teenager in Jacksonville in 1960, told the teens their up-close look at the scenes of the struggle will change their outlook on civil-rights history.
"This will be a life-changing experience when you do the tour," Hurst said.
Among the places the teens will visit is the 16th St. Baptist Church in Birmingham where, 50 years ago, four girls were killed in a bombing.
Isaac Ellison, a 16-year-old junior at Oviedo High, said he hopes sites such as the church and the memorial to James Reeb — a Unitarian Universalist minister beaten to death in Selma — will add another level to what they've learned.
"You're going to be at the actual places where it happened," he said.
Kinsey Barrett, a 16-year-old senior at Lake Howell High School, said struggles and sacrifices made by blacks to gain equal rights in the 1960s are being replayed today in the gay-rights movement.
"There are a lot of similarities between the civil-rights movement and the gay-rights movement now," Barrett said. "The principle that all men are created equal is still being tested."
Mowbray said the events of the past continue to echo in the present as the U.S. Supreme Court deliberates whether the 1965 Voting Rights Act is still necessary: "Some 50 years later, we are still having the same arguments."
Read the story on the Orlando Sentinel here.