Memories of ‘The March’: Vanderbilt students relive civil rights history on trip to Alabama

Excursion participants crossing the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge.

The Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center resumed its annual Black History Immersion Excursion earlier this month with a tour of key civil rights sites in Alabama. Forty-six students and 13 chaperones from the Association of Vanderbilt Black Faculty and Staff participated in the Feb. 10-12 trip, which included stops in Montgomery and Selma. It was the first such trip the BCC has organized since 2020, when they were paused for the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Among the highlights of this year’s excursion were the Freedom Rides Museum, the Rosa Parks Museum, Dexter Parsonage Museum, the Legacy Museum, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the Viola Liuzzo Memorial, the National Voting Rights Museum and the Edmund Pettus Bridge

“A primary objective of the excursion is to provide students with the opportunity to engage with Black history in the memorable places where it occurred,” said Rosevelt Noble, director of the BCC. “It’s one thing to read about the tragic events of Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in a history book, but it can be transformative for students to stand in the places where such events happened.” 

In addition to helping students engage with history, the trip provided opportunities for networking and mentorship among faculty, staff and fellow students.  

“It was really encouraging to see the community of support from upper-division students and faculty and staff at Vanderbilt,” said Sydney Brown, a first-year computer science major. “As a freshman, I haven’t networked very much, and this opportunity made it very comfortable for me to do so.” 

As part of the excursion experience, students are required to engage in service projects with local nonprofits. The projects address the themes covered during the trip, such as voting rights, civil rights and criminal justice reform. 

“The excursion was a valuable opportunity to learn firsthand about the triumphs and the terrors faced by Black Americans,” said Laila Thomas, a sophomore who is double majoring in political science and economics. “The emotional weight of the places we visited was lessened by the community and joy found among the diverse group of students in attendance. I think I’ll look back on this experience as one of my favorite memories for college.”