Office of the Chaplain and Religious Life

Dr. Dennis Simon Civil Rights Pilgrimage

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


A Journey Into History: The Dr. Dennis Simon Civil Rights Pilgrimage

Fifty years ago, decades before 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 including The Delta Project, Freedom Summer, and the Selma to Montgomery March became household words for that generation. 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 sacrificed in the struggle for equality and freedom.

In March 2018 students, faculty, and staff from Southern Methodist University will journey back in time to renew respect for those who struggled to secure civil rights often taken for granted today. We will travel from Dallas in pilgrimage to those memorials of freedom across The South, meet persons who participated in and witnessed the struggle for freedom, and walk where these recent ancestors suffered at great price.

Pilgrims will journey to Wylie College, in Marshall, home of the Great Debaters who in the 1930's hosted a debate team that, during the era of Jim Crow, was successful to the point of debating Harvard University. The next stop will be 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, some 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 Dr. Dennis Simon Civil Rights Pilgrimage consists of students from Dr. Ben Voth's Human Rights 4391/Sociology 6356 classes, "The Great Debates of the American Civil Rights Movement." Limited space is available for other students, staff and community members. Guided by Dr. Voth, Pilgrimage Leader Ray Jordan, and Student Leader Kendell Miller-Roberts, participants will enter the pilgrimage and gain knowledge about a part of history which preceded them, but has continued to shape their horizons and futures.

For information regarding the 2018 Dr. Dennis Simon Civil Rights Pilgrimage, please contact the Office of the Chaplain. For information about the class, contact Dr. Ben Voth, bvoth@smu.edu.