Group sets out to study civil rights and justice

Carroll County team to tour historical sites where injustice occurred

January 08, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

In the 1960s, Linda Van Hart, then a Sykesville High School student, saw many of her older friends demonstrate for civil rights. They marched, organized sit-ins and helped with voter registration drives throughout the South.

Van Hart has long regretted she couldn't join them because she was too young.

Now a Western Maryland College professor, Van Hart is retracing those first steps in the Deep South with a group studying nonviolence and its effects on society today.

"I felt robbed in the '60s because I could not go," Van Hart said. "I am a fifth generation Carroll Countian who grew up with a painful thing - bigotry - and I wanted to do something. Where better to get your finger on the pulse of the movement than with the people who have been working with these issues all along?"

Among her traveling companions will be Rob Caswell, a Western Maryland College sophomore studying social justice. The 19-year-old Germantown resident longs to see the places "where it all went down," to meet the heroes of the movement and visit the monuments they created.

"Racism is a problem among every generation in America and probably throughout the world," Caswell said.

This weekend, Van Hart, Caswell and several others from Westminster will be taking a "Historical Civil Rights Tour" through Alabama and Georgia.

Van Hart, who teaches art, and Caswell are in class together studying "Nonviolence: Idealism and Practicality," a course the college is offering during the holiday semester break. The field trip is an introduction to the three-week study.

"The tour allows students to walk first-hand in places where the nonviolent movement occurred in America," said Pamela H. Zappardino, who is teaching the course with her husband, Charles E. Collyer. "We will also be talking with many of the people who were participants in those activities. There are still many of them alive."

The class will visit the places that have become monuments to the movement: the Dr. Martin Luther King Center and Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta; the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., where in 1963 four young girls died in a bombing of their Sunday school; and the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., where marchers were beaten as they tried to walk to Montgomery, the Alabama state capital, in 1965.

Caswell sees the trip as "an opportunity to meet with the people who identified clear injustices and had the strong moral conviction to fight against them," he said.

Among those delivering first-hand accounts will be the tour leader, Bernard LaFayette Jr., who headed the Poor People's Campaign nearly 40 years ago and was a close ally of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. LaFayette, director of the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies at the University of Rhode Island, will meet the group in Nashville and travel with them.

Caswell said he is enthusiastic about the four-day journey, but he has studied the movement long enough to identify with those who made similar treks a generation ago. "If this were 35 years ago, my mom would be scared that I was going and I would be, too, but I would like to think I would have had the guts to go," he said.

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