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Class heads to Deep South to explore women's role in the Civil Rights Movement

Marline Johnson '13 (far left) poses with classmates in Charleston, S.C.
Marline Johnson '13 (far left) poses with classmates in Charleston, S.C.

For Marline Johnson '13, the American Civil Rights movement became personal when she was able to walk in the footsteps of Civil Rights pioneers and speculate about her own potential power as an activist.

"Much of the driving force behind the Civil Rights Movement was students my age," Johnson said. "That took a tremendous amount of strength, and I wonder if I had been a college student then, what kind of an activist would I have been?"

Johnson, a psychology major with an art minor, wrestled with these questions while in the Deep South on a College-funded trip with her gender and women's studies class, "Women and the Civil Rights Movement in the USA."

Click here for Marline Johnson's slideshow of the trip.

The seminar-style class examines the impact women had at that pivotal time in America's history and analyzes that impact in the deeper context of gender, race and culture. Led by a black woman from the North (Claudia Highbaugh, dean of religious and spiritual programs) with a white woman from the Deep South (Mab Segrest, the Fuller Maathai Professor of Gender and Women's Studies), GWS 292 is designed as a dual-perspective class. With the travel component - added for the first time this semester - it became so much more.

"The creation of a learning community across cultures and ethnicity was a life changing experience for me and for the students, who are male and female, white, African American, Chinese American and Puerto Rican," Highbaugh said. "The bond among the students will last as a provocative and empowering legacy of their undergraduate experience."

In addition to Highbaugh, Segrest and Johnson, the trip included students Will Pisano '15, Telayah Sturdivant '15, Rasheed Mitchell '13, Bernadette Palmieri '12, Elizabeth Ramos '12, Janet Tso '12, as well as Dean of Student Life Jocelyn Briddell, Director of Student Activities Scott McEver and Will Prosser, a Yale Divinity School student who works as an intern in Connecticut College's Office of Religious and Spiritual Programs.

Highlights of the trip included:

- Walking the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.

- Signing the pledge to be a Civil Rights activist at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala.

- Watching the documentary "Four Little Girls" in a class session on the trip, before visiting the 16th street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

- Taking a guided tour of Tuskegee, Ala., with Tuskegee native Professor Segrest

- Learning about the Tuskegee Airmen with Dean Highbaugh, whose father was a Tuskegee Airman

- Visiting the Martin Luther King Memorial in Atlanta, Ga.

- Touring the Slave Museum in Charleston, S.C.

Johnson, who is from Chicago, said she was moved to learn about the role of women in the Civil Rights movement from women who had lived it. "It wasn't my personal history, so I was drawn to the reactions and emotions of the people who had been part of it," she said.

Johnson currently expresses her power as an activist through writing, art and spoken word performances. This summer she will complete a College-funded internship working with troubled teens in Cook County, Ill.

April 25, 2012