Friday, August 23, 2013

Berea College Civil Rights Tour 2013: Tour Day 1

I continue the blog series here at The Gypsy Librarian with my notes, observations, reflections, and thoughts on my journey in the Berea College Civil Rights Seminar and Tour 2013. This is a way for me to preserve some of what I learned as well as a step in sharing it with others.Today I am covering the third day of the seminar and tour, which is the first actual touring day. This took place on August 3, 2013.

Reminder that, as I often do, I will try to type out notes directly. Any additional comments I make I will put in parenthesis (or try to distinguish from just straight notes). Quotes will be in quotation marks with attribution (if I managed to catch the name of source or it was available). If any other participants read this and wish to add or make corrections, etc., their comments are welcome. So are comments from anyone else (as long as you follow my usual rules of good behavior. I will not tolerate any form of bullying, intimidation, rudeness, etc. Such will simply be deleted). I will also add links from various sources as needed to expand on my notes or add further information that may not be clear from just my notes, or just for my own reference.

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Tour Day One Notes: August 3, 2013

  • As we leave from Boone Tavern, Dr. Turley reminds us to consider that the journey we are staring now, traveling together blacks and whites, would have been illegal back in the 1960s. With Reverend Bowman's prayer and blessing, we depart. (And I have so much to think and ponder.)

  • On the way to Haley Farm, our first stop on the journey, we watch the video Once Upon a Vision, which is a history of Berea College. 
    • The college was founded during the time of slavery, where custom, law, society, and religion all supported slavery. What Reverend Fee and Cassius M. Clay did was a revolutionary social experiment in hostile territory, the land that would become the town of Berea. Clay and Fee did have their differences (something I did not realize since often it seems that since Clay invited Fee that they would get along fine). Fee advocated for civil disobedience. Clay did not, and he withdrew his support of Fee and Fee's work. 
    • Fee then called on other abolitionists. Many came from Oberlin College in Ohio. Fee's vision was for a school for blacks and whites, and the poor, who could not afford an education. Opponents described Fee's work as nefarious in 1854. For a while, Fee and his people were exiled, but they kept coming back. With the Civil War, once the confederates invaded Kentucky, Fee and the others had to stay out. However, Fee went on to volunteer at Camp Nelson (I have to add this to my list of places I would like to see) where the Union Army in Kentucky recruited black soldiers; he served as a missionary and teacher.
    • When the war ended, Fee returned to his mission at Berea. By setting policies of buying land, which he then sold to blacks and whites allied to the cause, he helped create a racial buffer in Berea. Things were not easy, but the door was left open to all. The school did grow and succeed, and it drew support from reformers. 
    • Berea College's third president, William Goodell Frost (link to essay about Frost from our Special Collections and Archives), brought the mountain people vision to the college. He also did reverse previous college policies that allowed for interracial dating. Black enrollment reduced as Frost worked to bring in more whites. Was Frost racist or misguided? (or something else. What I have learned so far is that Frost's vision is still debated today. In part, what he did was to be able to keep attracting supporters and donors to the college. Frost also had to deal with the effects of the Day Law, which forced segregation). Yet, without blacks, there would be no Berea College per se. Frost did raise overall recruitment and the financial worth of the college. Fee, who was very aged by now, urged Frost and the college not to get away from the original mission of remaining open to all regardless of color. (I have observed it is a very delicate balance here to maintain the interracial mission as well as serve the youth of Appalachia. The fact we manage to keep those two missions, part of the Great Commitments, does speak highly of this college. It is not perfect; there could be some better balance in terms of diversity, but from what I see people here overall do care about the college being open to all)
    • By 1903, the college had about 800 whites and 100 blacks (serious imbalance here). Social segregation came, and by now, Plessy v. Ferguson was in place. The college remained open to both races until the Day Law was passed. Berea College fought the law all the way to the Supreme Court of the U.S., but it lost the case in 1908. To get around the Day Law, the college divided itself into Berea College and the Lincoln Institute, a vocational school for blacks in Louisville.
    • Yet, in spite of the obstacles, Berea's black graduates have gone on to great works and achievements. 

  • Clinton, Tennessee: Alex Haley Farm (Home of the Children's Defense Fund training facility). 
    • Ms. Theresa Venable was our hostess here, member of CDF. 
    • The farm, bought by CDF from the family of Alex Haley, serves as a training facility for CDF leadership and activist development. 
    • The hope today is for the facility to become an incubator to other activists to help end child poverty and violence against children. They also hope to bring in scholars to teach graduate courses in nonviolence and peace. 
    • We must note that we had 3 Berea College students participating in training programs here recently. Part of the Y.A.L.T. program.  The center is also working on a relationship with Berea College's Carter G. Woodson Center. 
    • We took a walk around the farm. The main building, as well as other building porches, have rocking chairs in them; sitting on the porch was a Haley family tradition that lives on today. Note that many of the rocking chairs do have small plaques commemorating various important figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Medgar Evers.
    • (I took various photos at the farm, along with various photos throughout the journey I will try to share online later)
    • The farm's chapel was designed by Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. A concrete part, a shed next to the chapel, is part of the building. It represents a dock to repair a ship or boat. The chapel itself has the shape of a boat. The structure of the boat signifies carrying children to safety. Inside, it is a beautiful open space, with a high ceiling, as if reaching to heaven. It's a relatively secular space (to my heathen view) with no decorations other than some portraits of people instrumental to the Civil Rights Movement on the side walls; these portraits were done by Elizabeth Scism. The chapel is used for worship as well as meeting space.
    • We also visited their library. The library contains the following types of materials: 
      • Books by black authors. 
      • Books on the black experience. 
      • Books on the Civil Rights Movement. 
      • Books and materials on the African-American culture, tradition, and heritage. 
      • Books from the Freedom School.
      • Children's books are also collected.
      • The archives and documents of the CDF as well as relevant government and NGO documents and reports. 
      • Yes, they have a card catalog (it's empty since the records are electronic). 
    • After the tour of the farm, we break bread with a nice simple lunch back at the main building. And after that, we are off on the road once more. 

  •  Chattanooga, Tennessee: Bessie Smith Cultural Center.
    • The museum is self-guided. It documents the work of Bessie Smith as well as the African American history of Chattanooga. The city was a major Civil War site as well for blacks. The area is also part of Appalachia. For both reasons, it is part of Berea's commitment to the region. We had a Berea grad as a local speaker. The city, much like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was known for its "industrial slavery." 
  • We are back on the road.
    • Small moment of humor. On the road lessons in African-American culture: Luther Vandross (official site link) music is good baby making music. Aretha Franklin (link to official site) music not so much. It's not impossible, just not as likely. 
    •  On the road, we watched chapter from Eyes on the Prize. The segment No Easy Walk. We are on our way to Birmingham, Alabama.
  • End of the road for the first day. We arrive in Birmingham, Alabama. 
    • Mr. Carl Thoma, alumnus of the college and Birmingham resident, arranged for us to tour parts of the city, showing us various key sites as we arrived. He then arranged for us to have dinner at his church. 
    • Dinner and learning at Trinity AME Zion Church. Our bodies were fed by some very generous people, but so were our minds. We met ten Berea College alumni, successful men and women who have returned to work in their communities. For us faculty and staff, this is the fruit of our work. For me, and I am sure others, meeting and listening to them was a moving and inspiring moment. This is what we are here for. My mission becomes clear. We also had a live performer being to life a colored woman of the 1960s telling us her story (and we will meet her later in the journey again). This added context and helped bring the history to life. 

  • End of the road reflection for this day. I admit that writing these notes, often here and there, on the run when I can get a moment feels a bit like a journalist writing on the run. I try to imagine what it would be like covering events in a place like Birmingham at the time, being a witness for the world to see but not really being able to take part. I think of the contrast to that with today's journalists and bloggers who may well be in the middle of the action and even actively involved as they document it.  I don't know if I could have just stood still while watching with a camera or a notebook. 

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