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October 2, 2012 > An encounter with the Civil Rights Movement

An encounter with the Civil Rights Movement

By Mission San Jose High School students

"Visualize history as a tapestry. This tapestry is held together by individual threads that are intricately woven together and intersect with many famous people throughout history. Each one of you is an individual thread who is going to have a chance to be part of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's 'I Have a Dream' speech today."

Six Mission San Jose High School students were invited to the Martin Luther King Education and Research Institute at Stanford University last summer and become living footnotes to his words. The students' internship focused on the Civil Rights Movement, with an emphasis on the Birmingham Campaign and March on Washington (nearing its 50th anniversary) and helped students realize the importance of primary source documents that contain voices that often don't make it into high school textbooks.

The students met Clarence Jones, who bailed Dr. King out of jail. It isn't every day that students meet someone they study in books. Dr. Carson, professor and director of the program, graciously worked with the students, presented crucial historical facts and arranged access to a variety of experts.

--Risha Krishna, Ethnic Studies Teacher, Mission San Jose High School Department Co-chair

By Anam Ahsani
My heart skipped a beat as I drove through the campus gates and stood in front of the Stanford University Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Educational Center. This was the moment I had looked forward to for many months - a summer research internship at my dream college!

Once inside the center, I was excited to get my hands on primary source documents. I opened each document in awe as I viewed the civil rights movement through Dr. Martin Luther King's eyes, not through a historian's perspective. Reading Dr. King's short yet intense letters to his friends and fellow leaders, I could actually sense his determination to end the turmoil in the lives of so many African-Americans.

We enjoyed watching segments of Dr. King's phenomenal 'I Have a Dream' speech, and were honored to share our research with prominent scholars including Dr. Clayborne Carson, Professor of American History, director of the center, and author of Civil Rights Chronicle: The African-American Struggle for Freedom and thrilled to be able to meet Clarence Jones, Dr. King's lawyer!

Mrs. Risha Krishna, our history teacher and team lead, introduced us to Abraham Verghese, who presented us with signed copies of his novel, Cutting for Stone. At another occasion, we enjoyed dinner with Dr. Carson and Dr. Jones. During our internship, Dr. Clarence Jones shared his personal experience during the Birmingham Campaign. I could vividly picture the historic scenes Dr. Jones described, as if I were walking next to him. Although this was a short internship, memories of this experience will remain with me forever.

By Albert Chu
Doing research on the Stanford campus was mind-blowing. On the first day of our internship, we had been told that we would tour the campus but instead, Mrs. Krishna, our teacher and leader of the group, came into the room with our first assignment - to create a lecture in 30 minutes and speak in front of a group of adults. We divided into three groups of two and in what seemed like seconds, headed to the lecture hall with about 50 teachers. I think we did well.

Following this eventful day, we spent our time researching for our presentation to be delivered on Friday, the last day. The Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Center houses a database of many thousands of primary source documents during the time of the Civil Rights movement. OKRA (Online King Records Access), the name of the database, was extremely helpful in our search for the right documents. It was a great honor to be given access to so many first-hand accounts of the African American struggle for freedom.

I was able to meet with people who knew Martin Luther King Jr. personally and worked with him to secure the freedom of African Americans. At a dinner with some of these people, I was able to hear their first person account of what it was like during that time. I was awe-struck by the bravery of the people, standing firm yet non-violently against all odds.

By Annie Dai
Entering Cypress Hall we were greeted by a hallway lined with photographs of Martin Luther King, Jr., and other civil rights movement figures such as, Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth, and King's beloved wife, Coretta Scott King. Yet what caused our eyes to widen in disbelief was the realization that the professor we were working under, Clayborne Carson, was in these pictures.

The first day was expected to be leisurely but it turned differently. Dr. Carson instructed us to dissect the last lines of King's renowned 'I Have A Dream' speech to unearth the inspiration behind the lines, "Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty we're free at last!"

Dr. Carson didn't lead a lecture but more of a discussion; each individual had to examine a certain portion of the speech and then present. It was a fresh way to learn and very powerful. And, did anyone else know that the latter portion of his speech was entirely impromptu? The day couldn't have amazed me any further, but somehow it did, being in the same room as Clarence Jones, King's lawyer and the man who bailed King out of Birmingham jail where the famous 'Letter From Birmingham Jail' was written.

There are thousands of primary sources such as letters, sermons, speech audiotapes, police reports, etc. I was shocked at just how raw these sources were. Studying these documents allowed us to experience intangible emotions and sense how decisions were played out. The Birmingham movement had so much to offer, and we had only grasped the edge of it.

By Sonia Krishna
History books provide factual knowledge but do not always resonate with the emotional sense of the event. We had the opportunity to scrutinize the Civil Rights Movement as more than just a time in history.

Our major task was to learn about the importance of using primary source documents to enhance our understanding of the decisions made during the Civil Rights Movement. In 1984, Coretta Scott King gave over 40,000 documents, pertaining to the Civil Rights Movement, to the Martin Luther King Jr. Institute at Stanford University. These documents ranged from the Sit-ins to the March on Washington.

Our group's focus was the Birmingham Campaign, in commemoration of its upcoming 50th anniversary. We developed a focus question and Dr. Carson and Dr. Jones met with us in the afternoons, to relay their personal experiences, helping us to make connections between our documents and events. Each of our three teams decided to focus on the Birmingham campaign. My partner and I focused on the Children's March where 4,000 children left school to walk in protest of segregation. Met with fire hoses and vicious dogs, they remained nonviolent and kept protesting. Reading personal narratives about such courage was absolutely mind blowing. However, being in the presence of Dr. Clarence Jones, the man who bailed Martin Luther King out of Birmingham jail and sat fifty feet away from him during his 'I Have a Dream' speech, was completely awe-inspiring. He was a living footnote in history and he made history so real for us.

By Darien Lo
"I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character..." These are words that almost every individual in the U.S. and perhaps the world knows by heart. They are a reminder that freedom is very seldom free and that only the hopes, dreams and determination of those who want it badly enough will allow it to become a reality. It is these very words and the people who struggled for that dream that were the subject of the one-week internship I attended at Stanford University, under the administration of Mrs. Risha Krishna of Mission San Jose High School and Dr. Clayborne Carson of Stanford University.

The bulk of documents I examined were letters or sermons by Martin Luther King, James Bevel and Fred Shuttlesworth, three of the most important leaders in the Birmingham campaign of 1963. What amazed me was their overwhelming belief in non-violence, so eloquently expressed within these documents. Considering how hard it is to practice non-violence, I hold a great deal of respect not only for these three but also for all the activists who managed to contain their anger towards oppression. Hearing Mr. Jones speak of the significance of young individuals in the movement was truly inspiring for our entire group. It was heartwarming to know that young individuals such as me were fully capable of leaving a permanent mark on the world and society.

By Sherri Zhang
My heart was racing. My peers and I had been preparing for this internship for months, watching documentaries and through numerous discussions. I knew that we were to meet with Dr. Carson, the professor behind the institute, and have a discussion about the civil rights movement with him. He was actually part of the civil rights movement, participating in the March on Washington, a fact that both awed and intimidated me.

Throughout the week, we used the OKRA (Online King Records Access), Google database, for the civil rights movement that the institute had put together. On the last day, with our research and copies of our primary sources, we presented to Dr. Carson. I don't think I've ever been so nervous before. At school, I usually feel more comfortable because I know my teacher and my classmates well and I know what the teacher is looking for in a presentation. For this presentation, we were on our own. And to top it all off, Clarence Jones, Martin Luther King Jr.'s lawyer was there to visit and listen as well. I could literally feel my heart beating in my chest and my hands were shaking.

After the whole presentation was over, they asked questions and I thought that they were asking questions because our presentation wasn't done well. However, they were just trying to get us to think more; they said that they enjoyed our presentation and they were inspired by us, the youth! I let out a huge sigh of relief and couldn't help but smile.

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