Upper School Students Experience Civil Rights History Firsthand

This past week, a group of 23 Upper School students, under the care of faculty members Andrew Bigelow, Terry Davis and Victoria Lee, departed for the annual Civil Rights and Social Justice experience in Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma, Alabama. The group left with one goal: to dive into the history of the civil rights movement by traveling to three important cities in the heart of Alabama where everyday heroes led and ignited the movement.

On the first day, the group met Dr. Carolyn McKinstry, a survivor of the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing. Her story mesmerized students, who asked questions to understand the reasons the KKK targeted kids and the lingering effects of such a hate-filled murder. They toured the church and walked across the street to Kelly Ingram Park, where the Children’s Crusade faced hoses, dogs, violence and many arrests. Finally, they finished the day with a fantastic southern feast at The Fish Market in downtown Birmingham. The next day, “guardian angels” Martha and Melanie from Out of the Box Tours led the group through Selma Marches, Brown Chapel and the EJI National Memorial for Peace and Justice, teaching them along the way. The group spent the third morning at the Dexter Baptist Church and Rosa Parks Museum, visited the Southern Poverty Law Center, met SNCC activist Dr. Valda Harris—daughter of Dr. Richard Harris (in his home)—journeyed through Bryan Stephenson’s Legacy Museum and finished singing and dancing with Ms. Vanessa!

By visiting these spaces in person, students returned to Chicago with a deeper understanding of the civil rights movement. Now these places were not simply facts to read in a book and memorize, they were actual physical events that had a profound impact on America’s story. Parker is extremely grateful for the faculty chaperones as well as all those in Alabama who helped make this educational journey a reality.

Click here for photos of this experience.
Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.