Studying Civil Rights during Junior Journey

Dec 8, 2016

by Derrick Jean-Baptiste '18
Edited for content and length

On my Junior Journey trip, we visited Washington D.C. and Memphis over fall break. We started out in D.C. at the new National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Holocaust Museum. I should have realized that day, that those two museums would certainly set the tone of the Junior Journey.

The African American History Museum was perhaps one of the best museums I have ever experienced. I cannot come up with words to describe the feelings this museum gave me, so I will first go through and describe the museum itself.

The museum was completed in the fall of 2016 and, unlike most museums, actually forces you to go to the basement in order to truly “start” the experience. The museum is set up like this in order to force the museum-goer to experience over 600 years of African and African American hardship, torture, and pain. As an African American, this no-fluff experience was powerful enough to drive me to tears.

One of the most powerful points in the museum was early in the basement level, and that was how the concept of race was created. According to the information presented by the museum, the idea of race (white, black, red, and yellow) was created in order to “rightly” justify the concept of enslaving another group of people. The slaves were not white; they were not actually people, so why treat them as such? It was disheartening to see that a lot of our racial issues in this country could be stemmed back to this decision.

The group outside the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.

Later that afternoon, we experienced more heartbreak when we took a tour through the Holocaust Museum. While I have extensively learned about the holocaust through a number of classes throughout my time in academia, having it thrust upon you in such a manner forces you to reflect and ask yourself, “How could this happen?”

It seems difficult to hold a society accountable for the actions of its leaders. But, I think this is an important burden that societies must hold in order to make sure horrible things that we see occur throughout history never happen again. A society must be held accountable because leaders cannot simply make their will happen without the actions of people in the society. In my opinion, the responsibility of the individual is to cater to not only their moral beliefs but also to treat people as they would like to be treated.

The next day we took a bus tour of Washington D.C. to explore the monuments, and in the latter half of the day we visited the Newseum. The Newseum was an interesting experience, to say the least. It gave an in-depth look at the five pillars of the first amendment. It was like receiving a semester's crash course on everything pertaining to media in the United States. It was completely mind blowing but also once again disheartening. While the museum focused so much on the history of newspapers and other forms of media, it mainly focused on the history and impact of white men. It kind of downplays people of color and women’s roles throughout the history of media.

While those are the points of the D.C. portion of the trip I enjoyed, it is time to move on to the Memphis leg of the trip. Memphis was a city I admittedly knew nothing about going into it. I had never been to a city that I knew absolutely nothing about, and because of this Memphis was really riveting.

Assia Angelini '18 at a reflection pond.

We went through two different music museums, the Sun Studio Memphis Music Tour and the Memphis Rock and Soul Museum. In both museums, we learned about the connections between music and civil rights. It is not hard to understand that civil rights and music go hand in hand. Music becomes an expression of the soul, and for people of color that logically follows tenfold. All you would have to do is listen to many of the soul songs that came out in the Civil Rights Era.

On the final full day of the Junior Journey, we took a trip to the Lorraine Motel, the location of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. This final civil rights museum we went to was extremely powerful for me. Considering that his final sermon was given a few days before he died struck me at just how the country saw MLK in his final days. Surprisingly, they saw him as a troublemaker and a rabble-rouser, but today they only remember him as a hero. It caused me to pause and wonder if the people in this country would still think of him as a troublemaker if he were alive today. How would the general populace react to MLK if he was against police brutality or if he stood with the protesters today? Would they still hold him in such a high regard? This final trip to the museum synthesized my entire thoughts for this trip.

While a lot of people may not choose to go on a trip like this, and while this trip may seem less extravagant than the trips that take you out of the country to saunter on a foreign land, I still enjoyed myself on this trip, but fun is not a word would use to define my experience. Yes, I had fun throughout the trip, but using fun as the main descriptor of the trip would trivialize the entire awakening experience on this weeklong journey. In fact, I would wholly recommend this “Junior Journey Experience” to anyone who has even a passing interest in the unrest that so plagues this nation.