Ten Grant High School students took a journey of a lifetime last week, when they traveled to Alabama to retrace Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic march for the voting rights of African Americans.
The students' travels took them to King's original starting point in Selma, Ala., and they marched with their teacher, Doug Winn, the whole way to Montgomery, Ala.
King's original 1965 march was the beginning of a new era in this country and played a big part in passing the Voting Rights Act, which gave Blacks the right to vote.
The march took these students beyond textbooks, showing them the types of details that aren't available in an Oregon classroom — photos of the protestors being beaten and killed, Ku Klux Klan robes, and actual clothing preserved from protestors, still bloody, ripped and torn, were among the items the Grant High students saw.
"I remember looking at a name of a boy who was 11 years old, who was riding a bike and got shot and killed just because he was in the area. It hurt to know that innocent people's lives were taken, especially so young," said Daniel Tucker, one of the Grant students who marched from Selma to Montgomery last week.
"I felt so many different emotions from looking at the photos of those who died, but at moments I was proud and happy to be Black because my people risked their lives so that I have the same opportunities as others," Tucker said.
Taylor Allen, another Grant student, said she tried to appreciate everything she saw on the march.
"What stuck out to me was the agelessness and timelessness of the South. Everything seemed to be so preserved, including the people," Allen said.
The students said they felt welcomed in the South, which is known for its hospitality. People honked at the students, encouraging them to keep going, even when they walked in the streets and blocked the road.
"Sometimes we walked in just dirt, then rocks, there were no sidewalks or even a path to walk on," Tucker said.
Even though there were no prominent figures like King walking alongside them, the students could feel the hardship experienced by those on the original march. Nearly one week after retracing the marchers' steps, the Grant students couldn't stop talking about the hardship those first marchers must have experienced — how worse their conditions were, how they walked those long miles in beat-up shoes, and were tormented by residents and police.
"They had so much to put up with," Tucker said. "They continued to march for their rights even if they were not able to see the changes."
Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, Ala., where a statue of King stands next to a memorial dedicated to the civil rights revolutionaries of the 1960s, was a highlight for all the students. When they Missed their scheduled tour of the park, the students walked around on their own, taking in all of the displays. A passerby, riding his bike, stopped to talk to them and ended up taking the students on an impromptu tour, educating them on everything in the park.
The students later said they were impacted more by his kindness and his knowledge of everything than they would have been by a trained tour guide.
"He made me want to learn more about my own culture, but yet embarrassed because he quizzed us on history, our history, our religion, and I didn't know the answers. It made me want to do better," Tucker said.
Traveling to a historical landmark, the Dexter Avenue King Church , were King preached from 1954 to 1960, was a sentimental moment for the Grant students. Two reverends and a deacon who knew King personally talked about the civil rights leader's life.
"It was really nice because we got a couple of laughs and they talked about how funny he was and how much he liked pool," Tucker said.
Both students agreed that others should do the walk next year. Allen stresses that, while she hopes others will do the walk, she also wants them to come with an open mind, accept the learning experience and be aware that people struggled for them to be where they are.
"When I say 'where they are' I mean in class with Whites, being able to sit in front on the bus, and being able to vote. Our predecessors fought for (these) changes and we have to understand that … to change the inequalities still present today," Allen said.