Office of the Chaplain and Religious Life

SMU Civil Rights Pilgrimage

Listen to Dennis Simon's Civil Rights Pilgrimage TedxSMU Talk here.


A Journey Into History: The SMU Civil Rights Pilgrimage

Four decades ago, years before the vast majority of SMU students were born, their parents and grandparents struggled to establish and claim equality of opportunity and protection under the law in the United States. Race was the principal issue in this struggle. During the decade of the 60's, places such as Jackson, Selma, Montgomery, Atlanta, Birmingham, and Memphis established themselves as memorials to the struggle for civil rights. The names of Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, Viola Liuzzo, and Chaney-Goodman-Schwerer flashed across newspaper headlines. Organizations such as the NAACP, SCLC, and SNCC, and movements such as The Delta Project, Freedom Summer, and the Selma to Montgomery March became household words for a generation who later parented current SMU students. The 1960's were years of social upheaval in American society as the moral and legal foundations of a culture were shaken by a generation of young people who gave their lives in the struggle for equality and freedom.

In March 2014 students, faculty, and staff from Southern Methodist University will journey back in time to reclaim memory and renew respect for those who struggled to secure civil rights often taken for granted today. We will travel from Dallas in pilgrimage to those "shrines of freedom" across The South; meet persons who participated in and witnessed the struggle for freedom, and walk where these recent ancestors gave their lives.

SMU Civil Rights Pilgrims will journey to Little Rock, Arkansas where nine courageous black students dared to challenge racial segregation in public schools. Pilgrims will visit the Jackson, Mississippi home of Medgar Evers, whose bloodstains can still be seen on the driveway where he was murdered. We will walk across Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge toward Montgomery and participate in the reenactment of Bloody Sunday. We will visit monuments and museums that celebrate the hard won political changes in a nation's social and moral structure. In Montgomery, we will visit Dexter Ave. Baptist Church and have dinner with heroes of the movement, those who knew Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The 16th Street Baptist Church will be the focus of our tour in Birmingham, Alabama where four young girls were killed in a bombing. Turning toward Oxford, Mississippi, pilgrims will engage the memory of Goodwin, Cheney and Schwerner and the experiences of James Meredith at the University of Mississippi. Finally, in Memphis, we will visit the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated.

The Pilgrimage consists of students from Political Science 4334 (class participation by approval) and other students, staff and community members. Guided by Pilgrimage Leader Ray Jordan, Student Leaders Jacqueline Lowrey and Melissa Maguire and Political Science Professor Dennis Simon, participants will enter the pilgrimage and gain knowledge about a part of history which in many cases, preceded them, but has continued to shape their horizons and futures.

For information regarding the 2014 SMU Civil Rights Pilgrimage, please contact the Office of the Chaplain.