In Mississippi, History Comes to Life

Bill Fisher
Shore's Grade 9 students are documenting a weeklong trip to Mississippi through photos and blog posts. During the trip, ninth graders engage in service learning in Glendora, Mississippi, where they work with local residents. The trip is one many graduates describe as having been the most transformative experience of their Shore careers.

The trip, now in its fourth year, is in partnership with the nonprofit Partners in Development (PID). According to the organization's founder and president Gale Hull, "We are going to a place where the population for generations has felt that their lives have been controlled and dominated by others. There is much entrenched hopelessness, depression, and inertia. We have been entrusted with a huge responsibility. As the pioneers working in Glendora, we are still very much about trust and relationship building."

The students, accompanied by faculty members Cam McNall and Ruth Bauer and former English teacher Walter Morris, work on various service projects in partnership with Glendora residents, such as cleaning up a local bed and breakfast and clinic and hosting holiday-themed parties for local children. In past years, ninth graders have helped construct houses for families in need, cleared brush, and repurposed abandoned playground equipment to fill a new play space in Glendora. This year, for the first time, the trip is coordinated by Chill Expeditions, the experiential education travel company that also manages the ninth graders' spring adventure in Costa Rica.

At the start of their travels, the students stop in Memphis, Tennessee, to visit the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, where they absorb some of the history of the important social justice issues they study while in Mississippi and in their history classroom back at Shore.

DAY ONE: 
Maris, Othar, and Abigael 
We started the day by showing up at Logan Airport at 4:00 a.m. Everyone was exhausted but eager to begin our journey. The security went smoothly, and we got to our gate with time to spare. The group dispersed to grab breakfast at Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts. We flew from Boston to Charlotte, North Carolina, and then on to Memphis, Tennessee. There, we found our way to the bus and met our driver DeAnthony and our representative from Chill Expeditions, Matt. Our first stop was at Central Barbeque, where we got our introduction to southern cuisine. 

After lunch, we walked over to the National Civil Rights Center, a museum at the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated. The group was invested in learning about the origins of slavery, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Act, and explored the exhibits. One of the cool things we saw was Martin Luther King’s actual motel room. The museum brought what we are learning about in history to life, and everyone learned something new. After the museum we got back on our bus and drove all the way from Memphis to Greenwood, Mississippi—approximately a two-hour drive. Some of us were so tired we slept the entire drive, while others used the drive to get to know each other better. When we arrived at the Hampton Inn, we went to our rooms to unpack and then straight to dinner. Sharing our meal together, we played games such as Mafia, Up Chickens Down Chickens, and Heads Up. When we got back to the hotel, we had some down time and then gathered to journal about our day. We took turns sharing about what we had learned. Several people commented on the research used in the Brown vs. Board of Education case where young black children were shown a black baby doll and then a white one; the vast majority chose the white child, which showed how quickly black kids were feeling bad about themselves. Around 9:30, we were sent off to bed. We were all ready for some sleep, but excited to see what the next day had in store for us. 

DAY TWO: 
Raphael, Lily, and Brooke
This morning we went to Walmart to get gifts for children who might only have one thing for Christmas. We felt the responsibility that this decision entailed; each present had to be something that our assigned kid would love and enjoy using. 

Afterwards, we took the bus to the Emmett Till Interpretive Center, where our tour guide, Devonte Wiley, gave us an in depth look at how the community reacted to the Emmett Till murder. It was shocking to see the bullet holes that riddled the memorial sign. He explained to us that they were currently on their fourth sign because the past three had been shot up by unruly locals. We were appalled to learn that the latest act of vandalism had occurred during the year 2017 and that residents throughout Tallahatchie, Mississippi, still feel animosity towards people like Emmett Till. 

After visiting the Interpretive Center, we took a trip to Glendora, where we met some of the locals. "Lady" prepared food for us as we wrapped gifts and raked leaves. After lunch, we finished the chores and went down to the basketball court to wait for the local kids to return from school. As the kids started to arrive, we introduced ourselves. It was fun meeting new people and hanging out with them around the playground. They were all so sweet and friendly, and we had fun playing football and basketball all together.

DAY THREE: Ethan, Spencer, and Eloise
This morning, we paid a visit to the Emmett Till Historical Intrepid Center (E.T.H.I.C.). It was very impressive to see a museum where the building itself had significance to the case. It was interesting to see how the intent of the museum was to heal, rather than to be provocative.

We then traveled to the bed and breakfast located across the railroad tracks from the Center, and split up into different tasks. Some of us helped to bake, some of us helped set up the main room for a holiday party for young kids from the town, and some of us continued to rake the lawn. Everybody was very anxious during the process of setting up. We had been told about these parties for the duration of the trip, and it was the main service aspect. At about 1:00 p.m. the first round of kids arrived at the party. These were the one- and two-year-olds, and there were not many of them. Although not everybody had their assigned kids arrive, we did a good job splitting up and keeping ourselves engaged with them. At about 3:00, the second wave of kids arrived. This group was primarily three- and four-year-olds, and was much larger. It was extremely gratifying to see their faces light up when they opened their presents. It gave us the feeling that we completely made their day. When we gave the kids their gifts, the whole group opened up. Many of the quieter kids began to speak up, and the party felt more cohesive.

After the kids opened their gifts, we headed out to the playground with them, and began to attract more people who hadn’t even been at the party. If we had walked out of the bed and breakfast with ten kids, at least fifteen to twenty were at the playground. They immediately attached themselves to us, and treated us like lifelong friends. We held piggyback races, played football, and pushed them on the swings. Even though we hadn’t known these kids more than an hour earlier, each and every one of us was sad to leave. We had made their day, but they’d had an equal part in making ours.

DAY FOUR: Arden, Meg, and Ella
This morning, we gathered at 7:30 a.m. for breakfast. Unlike other mornings, we had to pack up all of our stuff for the transfer to a new hotel. We took our bus to Oxford, MS. It was about a two hour bus ride north. Immediately from the bus, we went to the Rowan Oaks, the home of author William Faulkner. It was really interesting to see his study and his own handwriting on the walls. It was definitely a portal into a different time period. 

After the tour, we took a long walk to the town center where we ate tacos, gelato, and even explored the town square free from our chaperones for a half hour. We then walked to the Ole Miss college campus. We toured the civil war monuments with a history professor who had been working there for about 20 years. We viewed the stained glass in the old library of the campus. In viewing, he explained the story of the stained glass: the Civil War from its start to its end, each stained glass panel representing a period of time during the war. This stained glass happened to be made by Tiffany’s and was donated by the Delta Gamma sorority. We also sat by the monument to James Meredith and gave our opinions about its design and learned its history. 

We then took a bit of a longer walk to the Confederate soldier cemetery, where we learned that not only did Ole Miss act as a war infirmary, but they were closed during most of the war due to enlistments and disease. We also learned that although the number is unknown, there are at least 400 soldiers buried in this area. An interesting theory that some people still believe is that black groundskeepers removed the headstones in order to cut the grass, an idea that historians have long rejected.

After learning a brief history of the campus and its relationship to the confederacy, we were really able to ponder all of the interesting facts we had learned. We could attempt to imagine what James Meredith had been through as the first black student at the university. Looking around, several of our peers noticed the small numbers of people of color on the campus. It was particularly striking because of the shift from the nearly all black population in the Delta compared to the nearly all white population at Ole Miss. 

We then made our way to the Oxford Middle School where we all worked together to create Love Packs. Everyone ran around laughing and racing to distribute the food in organized piles. As we tied each Love Pack for the children, it was heartwarming to know that we were helping lots of children to not go hungry over the holidays. Love Packs is a certified non-profit that packs small kits for children who have food insecurity. Often, the breakfast and lunch at school are the only meals that they will get in a day. Love Packs works to change this. 

DAY FIVE: Cami, Ben, and Elizabeth
We left the Ole Miss Inn at 8:00 a.m. after breakfast. We drove into Clarksdale, the home of blues music, where we visited the Delta Blues Museum. Clarksdale is at the intersection of Route 61 and Route 49, which are the crossroads where Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the devil so he could be a great guitarist. We arrived thirty minutes before our appointment with the museum, so we took a walk around town. There was a lot of creativity and art in the dilapidated town. We stopped in a small coffee shop called Meraki. Meraki was similar to the Atomic Cafe in Beverly, but it was also very musical with a piano and guitar for the public to play. We went back to the museum for the 10:00 opening where we learned about blues musicians with local roots like Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Ike Turner, and Sam Cook. 

After we finished at the museum, we went across the street to Ground Zero, a restaurant and blues music club owned by Morgan Freeman. It was very cool inside; the whole room was covered by signatures each diner had written on the walls. There were two pool tables at the front where everyone enjoyed either watching or playing a game. 

There are many mixed feelings about going home. We are happy to go home to our families and our own beds, but we are also sad that we have to leave this amazing experience. The whole trip was very eye-opening and left a big impact on all of us. We all saw the racism and segregation that is still very manifest in the South to this day. However, there are signs of hope, like the Confederate statue on the Ole Miss campus which is being moved to a more appropriate place. We were also able to see how welcoming a community in deep poverty was to people as well off as us. Being in the community is different from doing service behind the scenes, like raising money at the PID dinner. We were able to see what the people whom we are helping are really going through, and that gives us a better understanding as to why we should be completing the service. 
 
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