Tour educates NC youth about civil rights history

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Tour takes students to historical sites, includes service project

By Connie Faber with files from Chris Eidse

Nineteen teens and five adults from four North Carolina congregations embarked on a five-day Freedom and Justice Tour June 16-20 that took them on a 1,350-mile odyssey.

“Our desire was to learn about and experience the many barriers that people had to overcome during the segregation era in the South,” says Chris Eidse, pastor of Boone MB Church and the former North Carolina District Conference youth pastor. “As leaders we wanted to see the youth inspired by the many biblical lessons from the civil rights movement.”

Among the lessons Eidse lists are: Nonviolent active protest can change the world. Love your neighbor as yourself. Everyone is created in God’s image. While some churches play a huge part in righting the wrongs if the culture, others are indifferent and some churches make the problems worse. Stand up and be passionate about what is right.

Atlanta, Ga., was the first stop for the tour participants who came from Boone MB Church, Laytown MB Church, The Life Center in Lenoir and First United Methodist Church of Lenoir. The group toured the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site where they sat in the pews of the church in which King preached, sat on the porch of home in which King was born and walked the streets he strode as he grew up. King was a pastor, activist and prominent leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement who advocated nonviolent methods of resistance.

The group’s second stop was Birmingham, Ala., where they visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a large interpretive museum and research center that depicts the struggles of the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s and is located in the city’s Civil Rights District. Here they saw the cell where King was imprisoned and wrote his famous “Letter From the Birmingham Jail.” They visited Kelly Ingram Park where the youth skipped school to protest and were then confronted by police and firemen with water cannons and police dogs.The North Carolina teens and sponsors stood at the site where four children were killed when the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed Sunday morning, Sept. 15, 1963.

While driving to Birmingham, the group watched Freedom Riders, an award-winning documentary that marked the 50th anniversary of the first Freedom Ride in May 1961 that aired for the first time on May 16, 2011. Freedom riders were civil rights activists who rode interstate buses into the segregated southern United States to test an earlier Supreme Court ruling that banned racial discrimination in interstate travel. While in Birmingham the North Carolina travelers met two of the original Freedom Riders and Raymond Arsenault, the author of the book that inspired the documentary.

Memphis, Tenn., was the next stop on the Freedom and Justice Tour and Eidse says the National Civil Rights Museum proved to be the most powerful historic site the group visited. The National Civil Rights Museum is a complex of museums and historical buildings built around the former Lorraine Motel where King was assassinated April 4, 1968.

“We saw the exact spot where King lay when he was assassinated. We stood at the window across the street from which James Earl Kay shot him,” says Eidse. “It was a pretty emotion time for our youth.”

The group used Nashville, Tenn., as a halfway stop on their trip back to North Carolina. Here they spent time volunteering with East Nashville Cooperative Ministries, a Christian ecumenical organization that seeks to improve the East Nashville community by addressing the spiritual and physical needs of its citizens.

“It was a powerful experience,” says Eidse, who has been looking for an opportunity to organize a trip like this since his family first moved to North Carolina seven years ago.“We had a mixed group of black and white teens that made the experience all the more meaningful. We started the trip as four separate churches, but we ended as one team. The times of debriefing at the end of the day just got deeper and deeper.”

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