DOINews: NPS-Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail Holds 50th Anniversary Walking Classroom

Last edited 09/05/2019

Walking Classroom members cross over the Edmund Pettus Bridge
Nearly 200 youth. general public, and park staff walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on the first leg of a five-day commemorative march from Selma to Montgomery. Photo by Will Wilson, NPS. (View additional photos on the park's Facebook page here.)

The Selma to Montgomery Historic Trail's “Walking Classroom,” now underway, is the first time the National Park Service has offered an opportunity for youth, ages 18 to 25, and the general public, all ages, to retrace the footsteps of civil rights giants for the iconic five-day, 54-mile trek through Dallas, Lowndes and Montgomery Counties in Alabama.

As anywhere from 200 to 300 participants each day embark on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, they become part of this historic event and gain a greater appreciation for the physical and emotional toll such a trek must have took on marchers nearly 50 years ago, building an emotional connection in a way that reading or lectures cannot.

The Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail welcomed 65 youth from 29 states and 150 general public marchers for Saturday morning's mass meeting opening ceremony at Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma, Alabama.

Participants were greeted by the Mayor of Selma followed by emotional and inspirational words from the original “foot soldiers,” Rev. Fredrick Reese and JoAnn Blackmon Bland. NPS Rangers Nigel Fields and Matt Hempsey performed songs sung by the original marchers to set the tone. Also present were Southeast Regional Director Stan Austin, Southeast Regional Deputy Director Sherri Fields and Associate Director of Interpretation, Education and Volunteers Julia Washburn, and Superintendent Sandra L. Taylor.

The flag ceremony performed by Boy Scout Troop #712 led the historic route from the church and over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The mood of the crowd was electric. Feelings of honor, gratitude, happiness and reflection filled the streets of Selma.

At the apex of the bridge, the sound of the Shiloh Baptist Church drumline from Georgia ushered the participants across. Leadership and interpretive talks along the trail include “the David Hall Farm,” the first campsite of the marchers of 1965, “the Martyrs of the Movement,” and “the County Line.” Special guest speakers include civil rights activist Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Julia Washburn, Rep. McClammy, Dr. Joy DeGruy and Lecia Brooks of Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Tolerance program.

Youth played a critical role in the original march. The participation of college students, teenagers and children was instrumental to the success of Civil Rights Movement. As the National Park Service prepares for its centennial in 2016, the goal is to connect with and create the next generation of park visitors, supports and advocates.

The National Park Service Eastern Incident Management Team is supporting the event with a total of 111 staff from 40 parks in 19 states and staff from the U.S. Park Police, Washington, Northeast Regional, and Southeast Regional Offices.

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By: Patricia Butts, management analyst (public information officer), NPS

March 24, 2015

Related Links:

NPS-Selma to Montgomery NHT

NPS-The Morning Report

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