Forty-five years after the epic desegregation struggle at UGA, the legacy of the civil rights movement has become a vital part of the university’s history. But a group of visiting fifth graders saw the movement as more than just the past.
To many of the Barrow Elementary School students who spent a few hours on campus May 4, the crusades of the past serve as templates for the present and guidelines for the future.
Cheryl Dozier, chief diversity officer at UGA, asked the children if they believed in anything so strongly that they’d go to jail for it, like many protestors and boycotters during the civil rights movement did in the 1960s. Hands shot up across the room.
“Animals,” one boy said.
“My family,” another added.
“The war in Iraq,” said Josefine Striepen. “I think that like Martin Luther King Jr. said, we should try to help everyone by talking about (our differences) and not fighting it. If I were in charge, I’d sit the main two people down and we’d talk through it.”
That’s a big dream, and one that few 11 year olds could articulate so well. But that is what’s encouraging about teaching the civil rights movement. It’s also why the class has visited campus for the past three years to see where parts of the struggle took place, said teacher Jane McNeely.
Making the struggle real
“Every year we do this, it just gets better,” she said. “It makes it more real when students realize that it (the civil rights struggle) happened near where they live and it still impacts how this university operates.”
The students have studied the movement since the beginning of the school year, learning about civil rights icons like King, Malcolm X, Gandhi and Rosa Parks. At UGA, Derek Alridge, associate professor of lifelong education, administration and policy, showed a video of Donald Hollowell, the lawyer for the first black students at UGA, Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Hamilton Holmes.
Civil rights ‘foot soldiers’
“He was what we call a ‘foot soldier’ in the movement,” Alridge told the students. “If we were in the civil rights movement today, we would all be foot soldiers. Those are the people who worked hard and made things happen.”
“Learning about (Hollowell) was my favorite part,” said student Duncan Miller. “We had learned about (Hunter-Gault and Holmes) but not about Mr. Hollowell.”
The group ended the tour by eating lunch with students from UGA and listening to a drum performance by Arvin Scott, a faculty member in the school of music.
“I incorporate all kinds of world influences, from African beats to Brazilian rhythms and everything else,” Scott said. “It’s a diverse performance, appropriate for a civil rights group.”
And the beat goes on.