New York high school students tour civil rights sites throughout Mississippi and Louisiana

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 17, 2004

NATCHEZ &045;&045; Textbooks were closed and minds were opened this week as a group of New York high school students toured the South making key civil rights stops.

The Civil Rights Connection, sponsored by New York Senator Nancy Larraine Hoffmann, brought 25 students to a variety of Mississippi and Louisiana historical sites.

&uot;Most of it is not things we can get out of a textbook,&uot; 18-year-old Lauren Mercier said.

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The students spent their time touring museums and doing volunteer work.

This year’s trip included half a day in Natchez and Vidalia and other time spent in Jackson and Port Gibson.

Hoffmann started the tour in 1996 in an effort to provide a select group of students with a living history lesson, she said.

The students, nominated by their school administrators, had to write an essay about their favorite civil rights leader.

A committee chose the students based on their writing and school involvement.

They came from 12 different schools in Hoffmann’s district, around Syracuse, N.Y.

&uot;They were judged on how well they are going to carry the message of non-violence home with them,&uot; Hoffmann said. &uot;It is a character building exercise.&uot;

Tom Bennett, a high school social studies teacher in New York and frequent trip chaperone, said he loved to watch the students learn on the tour.

&uot;It is an experience that can’t be duplicated in the classroom,&uot; he said. &uot;They encounter people who have lived the civil rights movement.&uot;

Dashawn Tucker, a high school senior, said there is more to the trip than just history lessons, though. &uot;Everybody is so nice here,&uot; he said.

&uot;They are always speaking to you. It isn’t like that in New York. Everyone is always so busy.&uot;

The students also get the chance to bond with each other on the weeklong trip since most of them have never met before.

&uot;The intensity of the experiences forces them to get together,&uot; Bennett said.

&uot;They get exposure to lots of different people.&uot;

Hoffmann said she started the trip based on her experiences as a civil rights worker.

While in Natchez the students volunteered at the Natchez Children’s Home and a local farm and toured Melrose.

Other stops throughout the state include Tougaloo College, the Medgar Evers Homestead and a conversation with Bobby Delaughter.