Last updated on June 9, 2022
This year, Northwest School students were finally able to participate in Summits after three years of cancellations due to COVID-19. Summits are a two-week program that Northwest created to promote experiential learning within the school. This year many things were different because of COVID restrictions. One of Northwest’s most anticipated Summits is The March Goes On, which focused on teaching students about racism in the United States by taking them to the US Southeast. The goal of the Summit is to teach students how to continue the fight against racism in the US and what they can do as young activists. The March Goes On used to be an annual trip, but due to the pandemic, it has not happened in three years.
On the first day of the trip, the group flew to Atlanta, Georgia, and headed straight to the car rentals to wait for our rental vans. After a three-hour wait to get our vans, we ate dinner and settled into our hotel.
The next day, the group visited Auburn Avenue in Atlanta. Auburn Avenue features many historically significant places such as Martin Luther King’s birth home, Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, Ebeneezer Baptist Church, and the burial site of MLK and Coretta Scott King. I learned a lot more in my few hours in Atlanta about MLK than I have in my twelve years as a student. It was astonishing to me how little I truly knew about Martin Luther King Jr., despite how much he is talked about in school. For instance, MLK’s name at birth wasn’t even Martin. He, along with his father, later changed his name to Martin to honor Martin Luther. Learning all this new information about MLK made me realize how poorly social justice is talked about in the United States.
On the third day, we planned to visit two HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges or Universities), Morehouse and Spelman in Atlanta, but once we arrived, we were told that due to COVID-19 protocols we could not tour the campus. After leaving the colleges, we went to Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama. While walking around the university campus, we were approached by the person in charge of preserving the school’s “special books.” We were able to look through the book collections of Booker T. Washington, the founder of Tuskegee University and a well-known author and educator, and Albert L. Murray, a well-known music critic. There were many interesting books dating back to the early 19th century. The books covered a large variety of topics from music, to history, to novels, and even an original Vanity Fair print. After visiting the Tuskegee, the group headed to Selma, Alabama to sleep for the night.
Our fourth day on the trip was dedicated to the historic city of Selma. Many key civil rights events happened in Selma. Most notably, the event is now known as “Bloody Sunday” which took place during one of the Selma to Montgomery marches. While protesters marched through Selma, they were brutally beaten by police officers.
The majority of the day was spent on a guided tour with a Selma citizen, Joanne Bland. Ms. Bland was a great tour guide and the majority of the group agreed that talking to her and learning about Selma was the most impactful experience of the trip. She was very passionate about improving the city which was great to see and motivated me to create change in my community. While on the tour we drove through Selma, learned about some of the historic buildings in the city, and also visited a Confederate cemetery that was placed in Selma against the city’s will. There were many placards honoring the fallen Confederate soldiers and lots of praise for these “patriots.” Throughout the tour, Ms. Bland emphasized the importance of our generation. We are the generation that has the power to create change. After the tour, we walked along the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site where the events of Bloody Sunday took place. After reflecting on our time in Selma, we got in the van and headed to Birmingham, Alabama.
The next day in Birmingham, we drove to the 16th street Baptist Church, the site of a Ku Klux Klan bombing in which four girls were killed in 1963. Three of the girls were fourteen years old, and one was only eleven. While in Birmingham, we walked the route of the Children’s Crusade, a protest led by students throughout downtown Birmingham also in 1963. While walking the route of the Children’s Crusade, there were many placards with quotes from activists during the civil rights movement, and lots of information about important people involved in the civil rights movement in Birmingham. After walking the Children’s Crusade, we visited the Negro League Museum. It was interesting to learn more history of Black baseball players other than just Jackie Robinson. As a very big fan of baseball, I loved this exhibit and I, along with other members of the group, was able to meet Ron Jackson otherwise known as “Papa Jack.” Ron Jackson was a Major League Baseball player and later went on to coach the Boston Red Sox to a World Series win over the New York Yankees. After the Negro League Museum, the group packed up and spent the night in Memphis, Tennessee.
Our time in Memphis was very emotionally taxing. Memphis is the city where Civil Rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The site of his assassination, the Lorraine Motel, was turned into the Civil Rights Museum, a 24-exhibit museum. Some of the most impactful exhibits in the museum were the sit-in, Rosa Parks, and slave trade exhibits. The most unique exhibit the museum had was the exhibit dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. It preserved the motel rooms that MLK and his colleagues had stayed in prior to his death on the patio just outside of his room. The museum also walked you through the police investigation of the assassination. The shot that killed MLK was believed to be taken from a window in the building across the street from the motel. In the building where the shot was believed to be taken, there is another exhibit with photos from the police investigation, along with lots of original evidence from the police investigation. You could even stand in the alleged location where the shot was taken. It was an indescribable feeling to be at that spot, knowing the events that took place there. After going through the Civil Rights Museum, we visited the Stax Records Museum where we learned about soul music in Memphis and what it meant to the Black community. We left Memphis to eat dinner in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Before dinner in Clarksdale, we met a group of people who were dancing in the neighborhood. It was nice to speak with people from the town and it made the city of Clarksdale stand out on this trip.
The following morning, we went to the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale. All of the music museums were very cool to visit, and this museum was a lot more about the artists themselves instead of the history of soul, like the Stax museum. In blues culture, it was very common for artists to either make their instruments or modify their instruments themselves. This museum also talked about music from Black musicians that wasn’t credited to them. It showed how racism was and continues to be prevalent in every aspect of society, even the arts.
After Clarksdale, we drove to Money, Mississippi, and visited the Bryant Grocery store. The Bryant Grocery store is where the tragic story of Emmett Till began. Emmett Till was a fourteen-year-old boy from Chicago, who was in Mississippi visiting his family in 1955. While in Mississippi, Emmett Till was accused of whistling at a white woman inside Bryant’s Grocery. The woman’s husband and his brother tracked down Emmett, tortured him to death, and dumped his dead body in a nearby river. When his corpse was found, the body was so mutilated that it could barely be identified. After his death, Till became a symbol for the Civil Rights Movement. I acknowledge that this is an extremely brief historical account of the story of Emmett Till, and I strongly encourage anybody who would like to know more to educate themselves on the historical events covered in this article.
Bryant Grocery was not preserved and was a run-down building covered in vines and overgrown plants. Had it not been for the historical marker and my previous knowledge of Emmet Till’s story, I would not have known the significance of this building. This experience opened my eyes and made me realize how even today in 2022, the country is constantly trying to cover up its dark history. It made me think about every old abandoned building I had ever seen and wondered what significant events took place there. There’s so much US history that we do not know, and will never know because it was covered up. The owners of Bryant Grocery were offered money to preserve the original Bryant’s Grocery building, but instead of investing the money into preserving history, the owners declined and have been letting the building, and the history connected to the building, slowly decay.
The rest of the day was dedicated to driving and reflecting on seeing the grocery store. The next morning, the group visited Medgar Evers’ home. Medgar Evers was a well-known civil rights activist and was the first NAACP field secretary in Mississippi. One day after a long meeting, upon Evers’ arrival at his house, he was shot from across the street and killed in his driveway. Evers’ home was in the middle of a regular neighborhood and people were driving past the house and living their normal lives. This was a stark contrast to Auburn Avenue in Atlanta. In Atlanta, the whole street was a historic site, and most if not all people around MLK’s birth home were there solely to visit the historic homes. Seeing the grocery store all broken down caused me to think about the history that we drive by every day again, as Evers’ house looked just like any other house in the neighborhood, but held so much historical significance.
After visiting Evers’ home, we drove to Montgomery, Alabama. Upon our arrival, we settled into our hotel, walked around the downtown area, and ate dinner by the Alabama River in Riverfront Park. The city was beautiful and had a very active nightlife.
The next morning we visited the Legacy Museum in Montgomery which was founded by the Equal Justice Initiative. The Museum focuses on Black history in the United States from enslavement to the modern-day struggle of mass incarceration in this country. The legacy museum forces you to face these horrible moments in history on a personal level. The museum featured holograms of enslaved people in cells speaking to you, dirt collected from different lynching sites around the country, and videos of inmates sharing their stories with you as if you were visiting them in jail. This museum aimed to put you inside the history and it was extremely impactful. We spent hours inside, and there was so much to do that some people didn’t have enough time to see everything they wanted. This museum was what I considered to be the most impactful of the trip. The museum featured events from as recent as 2020 and showed that history is being written every day. I love that this museum emphasized the importance of history in our lives. Oftentimes in school it’s easy to feel disconnected from the history you are being taught, but the reality is that history is constantly affecting your daily life, and I believe that the contemporaneous nature of the Legacy Museum reflects that reality.
The Legacy Museum also showed an old map of Montgomery from when the slave trade was the city’s biggest economic source. It turned out the park where we ate dinner the night before was a slave importation site, and downtown Montgomery used to be dedicated to the holding and selling of enslaved people. This further made me realize how hard it is to spot history in this country, and just how hard the United States attempts to cover up the dark spots of its past. Had I not seen the map in the legacy museum, I would never have realized the horrible things that happened in the streets of Montgomery.
Following the Legacy museum, students visited the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The trip took students out of their comfort zone but upheld the understanding that some were not ready to face everything that these museums had to offer and no one felt forced to be put in those positions. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice was a memorial honoring all of the known lynchings that have taken place in the US, writing names of victims on big metal slabs. The sheer amount of names written in this memorial was very striking. One of the slabs said that there was a mass lynching in which more than 200 Black people were lynched in one day. The memorial did a great job of honoring all the lynchings and the effort and research that went into it was very clear. The most striking thing about the memorial was knowing that there were so many more lynchings in the country that we simply do not know about.
After visiting the memorial, the group, along with some students from Garfield High School that happened to be in Montgomery at the same time, we’re able to speak with a lawyer from the Equal Justice Initiative. The lawyer shared more information about what the EJI is doing now, and how we as students could get involved. It was very rewarding to end the trip on a modern-day note, to feel more empowered about what we could do when we returned to Seattle.
After some reflection about the memorial and the talk with the EJI representative, we ate dinner and went back to our hotel. The following morning we drove back to Atlanta and flew home.
When I was getting ready for this trip over spring break I was preparing for difficult talks and experiences, but nothing could prepare me for the feeling of being in these historical locations. As a non-Black student, I was heavily impacted by all these experiences, and I cannot imagine how a Black student may have felt. This trip had lots of uncomfortable moments, but it was a discomfort that was necessary. A discomfort that pushed me to learn and that engaged me in a way that a trip without discomfort would not have. This trip taught me so much more than I could ever have learned in a classroom setting. This is an experience that everyone should hope to take part in at some point in their lives. I hope that every rising Junior and Senior at least attempts to take part in this Summit. This was one of the most memorable experiences of my life so far, and I am sure I will remember what I learned on this trip for the rest of my life.