New York students get ‘hands-on’ lessons in Civil Rights Movement

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 1, 2000

New York teenager Latazia Russell and 22 of her peers are getting a &uot;hands-on&uot; lesson in the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement. &uot;I never knew that the struggle was so hard,&uot; said Russell, who called her group’s trip from Memphis to Natchez hands-on rather than textbook. The group of 23 high school juniors flew from New York Monday and traveled through Memphis and Jackson before arriving in Natchez Tuesday. The trip, known as the Civil Rights Connection, is designed to give students a better understanding of the Civil Rights Movement.

&uot;The purpose of (the trip) is to open their eyes — to enlighten them to why they have some of the freedoms they do nowadays,&uot; said Greeley Ford, a trip chaperone.

This is the fourth summer a group of teenagers from upstate New York has made this trip.

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Sen. Nancy L. Hoffmann, D-N.Y., who organized the trip, visited Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement and still has ties in the area, Ford said.

&uot;You can read about (civil rights) in history books, but she wanted them to relive it,&uot; Ford said.

Some of the stops students have made on the trip include a visit to the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, the site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

While in Jackson, the teens met with James Meredith, the first black person to attend the University of Mississippi.

Student Rina Brule said the meeting with Meredith gave her a completely different perspective on his cause during the Civil Rights Movement.

&uot;He didn’t want to be remembered as the brave integration person,&uot; she said. &uot;(The trip gave me) a much better understanding of the Civil Rights Movement that I could not have gotten from books at home.&uot;

Brule, who said she lives in a white suburb, said her time in the South has also given her valuable exposure to people of other races. &uot;This has — to be frank — just made me a lot more comfortable with African-Americans,&uot;&160;she said.

While in Natchez, the group is doing community service work, taking part in the Natchez Literary Celebration, attending a reception at the Natchez Museum of Afro- American History and Culture and visiting other local sites.