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Sharing the Movement

As part of Project HIP-HOP, Boston-area students embark on a 5,000-mile journey to meet with veterans of the civil rights movement.

<p>Sharing the Movement</p>

For the group of 15 high school students - of African-American, Latino, Asian-American and European-American backgrounds, including some first-generation immigrants - and the six drivers who accompany them,4 the three-week journey through our nation's painful past demands a level of physical and emotional endurance that few are prepared for. Each year, before departing from Boston, the group has met with locally-based Movement veterans and seen and discussed the Eyes on the Prize series and the film Freedom on My Mind. In the summer of 1999, we held a 40-hour-long anti-racism training institute for participants, based around the Project HIP-HOP Resource for High School Students which a previous year's group had helped develop.

Although the itinerary varies from year to year, certain places are always included. After a 12 hour drive from Boston to the Mason-Dixon line, each tour kicks off with a visit to Harper's Ferry, where John Brown tried to overthrow slavery. Much later the students visit the largest and one of the oldest African-American-owned towns, Mound Bayou in the Mississippi Delta, where former slaves sought to create a refuge as the promise of Reconstruction was destroyed. The students join the family of Ceasar Moore for his birthday celebration in Philadelphia, Miss., and struggle to come to terms with the fact that the man who gave them his warm embrace was born in 1896, the year in which the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson declared "separate but equal" to be constitutional.5

Everywhere they go, the students learn about what life was like under Jim Crow segregation and about the fear which needed to be overcome for the acts of individual resistance to swell into a movement. From the Mont-gomery bus boycott to the Greensboro sit-ins, from the Children's Crusade in Birmingham to the Albany movement in Georgia, they learn about what it was like to organize and sustain an ongoing defiance of the system of white supremacy. They learn this from participants, some who are today well known, others who have never before talked publicly about their involvement.

In Selma, AL, they walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, after hearing from Joanne Bland about her attempt to cross the bridge as a child on Bloody Sunday in 1965. They trace the steps of the Selma-Montgomery marchers, past the monument to Viola Liuzzo, the Detroit housewife who was murdered while she drove marchers home, and through Lowndes County, where they learn about the formation of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization. It adopted a Black Panther as its symbol as anger swelled about the high cost of the strategy of non-violent direct action to African Americans. In Jackson, Miss., they sing freedom songs with SNCC veteran Hollis Watkins, and stand spellbound in Medgar Evers' house as Hollis sings a ballad to the murdered NAACP leader. In Hatties-burg, Miss., they hear from Ella Dahmer and her sons about the night in 1966 when the Klan firebombed her house and killed her husband Vernon because he had been helping register his neighbors to vote. For 20 years after the murder, Klan head Sam Bowers taught Sunday School 20 miles down the road from Ella Dahmer's house. A few weeks after our 1998 visit to Ella Dahmer, Bowers was finally convicted of ordering the firebombing and sentenced to life in prison.

The fact that some of the movement martyrs were only a little older than the Project HIP-HOP students themselves gives them a particularly intense feeling of connection to the events of 30 and 40 years ago. They can almost see students flee past them as they stand by the monument to three young people killed by the highway patrol, police, and National Guard in Orangeburg, S.C., and listen to former SNCC program director Cleveland Sellers describe in vivid detail what happened when students returned to the campus of South Carolina State University after picketing a segregated bowling alley in February 1968. The Massachusetts students had just visited the All Star Bowling Alley and interviewed its owner, Henry Floyd - the same man whose refusal to integrate the facilities set the stage for the event known as the Orangeburg massacre, which left scores wounded in addition to the three fatalities. In Orangeburg, and elsewhere, they discover that the South has changed, but also that the past is still present: the reputed murderers of the three civil rights workers killed in Philadelphia, Miss., still live "respectable" lives in Philadelphia and nearby Meridian.

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