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Interterm Immerses Students in Civil Rights Movement

Journalism 101: reporters learn to write stories.

Journalism 301: reporters learn to connect stories to the world around them.

The Doane interterm course "Free at Last?" will challenge eight Doane students to do both when they travel to Alabama and Tennessee to explore the roots of the civil rights movement.

The challenge, according to David Swartzlander, assistant professor of journalism, is to write of the power of a 50-year-old event, relate it to their lives in a rural state with a minority population of 15 percent, and to examine whether Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream has come to fruition.

"One of the things they're going to ask everyone is ‘Where do we go from here?' I'll think we'll hear that his dream has not been achieved," Swartzlander said.

The trip offers both journalism and cultural lessons.

All have studied the civil rights movement in textbooks and historic videos, but it pales in comparison to first-person experiences.

The group will interview the foot soldiers of the movement, people who were sprayed with hoses or chased by dogs, risking their lives for what they believed.

They'll walk across the Edmund Pettus bridge near Selma, where King led a march for voting rights in 1965.

They'll listen to oral histories of Rosa Parks and sit on a replica of the bus she made famous.

They'll gain insight from editors of the Montgomery Advertiser as they discuss civil rights coverage then and now. They'll hear from the attorney for Sullivan, of Times vs. Sullivan fame, the landmark case that established the actual malice standard, hence allowing coverage of the civil rights campaigns in the southern United States.

Swartzlander hopes the trip will show students civil rights battles still exist today and their varied forms.

"It's so easy to forget, in this day and age, that we're not far removed from this behavior."

All of the students in the interterm also are enrolled in a Magazine Production course next spring, where they will chronicle their experience in stories, photos and designs to be printed in an upcoming Doane Magazine.

They will document their visits to civil rights landmarks such as:

  • Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, where four young girls died in a fire bombing in the 1960s
  • Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Street Church in Montgomery where King preached
  • Rosa Parks Museum
  • Civil Rights Memorial
  • National Voting Rights Museum
  • the national Civil Rights Museum at the site of the old Lorraine Motel in Memphis where King was killed

Even more importantly, they'll share the stories of those who lived it first hand.

The trip builds on the success of previous journalism interterm courses, three-week courses between the fall and spring semesters. In past interterms, Doane journalists traveled to Washington D.C. to cover the presidential inauguration. Another group interviewed victims of the 2004 Hallam tornado, writing of its destruction and aftermath.

"So much of journalism is experience," Swartzlander said. "I want them to get experiences they can't get in the classroom."