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Sep  2011 28
Reflections on a Civil Rights Road Trip

This last summer I took my youth group on a road trip. On June 15th we headed to Memphis. First planned stop: The National Civil Rights Museum. From there we had another 4 days or so touring Alabama.

The trip was an educational adventure that brought us face to face with the places and landmarks of the civil rights movement. I had only ever read about these events in books, and occasionally would watch the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. on YouTube. Overall I felt distanced from these events. Perceiving this disconnect, I intuited that the young people in my youth group needed to touch these stories as fully as possible. So off we went.

For a few months up until the trip I devoted our Wednesday nights to the discussion of what took place during the civil rights movement. We talked about the movers and shakers of the period. We had some good conversation about the Christian conscience that fueled this movement but also acknowledged the dissenting voices within the Christian perspective…and struggled to get a grip on these inconsistencies. Some of our classes were difficult, especially when we considered and confronted our white privilege; privilege that exists for us and not others just because we’re white and they’re not. We detailed the implications of this privilege and how living as if it doesn’t exist only perpetuates racial injustices. These discussions are easy to run from but we tried hard to engage them honestly.

Throughout these discussions I attempted to make the case that civil rights wasn’t a movement that ended because a few laws were passed (though those were giant victories). Rather, it’s a cause that those who seek to live into the way of Jesus must continually champion, even today. 

As we toured the sites and visited the museums we encountered the depths of human depravity. In the sense that we were “there,” we were able to somewhat relive the ugliness of hatred and injustice. We walked the places where humans were treated as if they were nothing but animals—dehumanized targets of water hoses and dogs. We stood at the very location MLK was gunned down. We visited the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL and encountered the scars left from the bombing that happened so many years ago.

Racism became real for a bunch of folks that, in many ways, never thought about it much (because we’ve been privileged in not having to think about it). Not only did we have to admit the racism that oppressed so many during that era, but also we had to acknowledge that the residue of that hate-filled period of American history hasn’t been completely washed away. We took a road trip and discovered that our journey had only just begun.

Browse more posts by: Josh Linton, Phillips Admin/Staff
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