- The Washington Times - Monday, May 28, 2007

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Martin Luther King was assassinated just one day before Sharon Matlock turned 10.

Her birthday brought gifts and her mother’s tears, and ever since, she has tried to understand the violence of those times.

Now 49 and a college staff member, Miss Matlock recently joined professors and students on a five-state trip to civil rights landmarks to find answers.

More and more colleges are leading trips through the South — to cities such as Memphis, where King was shot in 1968, to Little Rock and Central High School; Atlanta; Selma, Ala.; and Jackson — to help students understand the long, bitter struggle for equality.

The trips bring events of that period to life and provide students with insights they could not get in a classroom, say officials of Southern Methodist University, sponsor of the tour Miss Matlock joined.

“Seeing Medgar Evers’ house was sobering because we saw how that family had to live back in that time,” says Miss Matlock, describing the home where the Mississippi National Association for the Advancement of Colored People field secretary was fatally shot. It is in Jackson, the tour’s first stop. “The house was designed with no front door. They had to live on the floor. They were prisoners in their home.”

In 2005, SMU created its Civil Rights Pilgrimage Travel Seminar, which takes students during spring break to historical sites. Miss Matlock, who works in the university’s Human Resources department, traveled with 40 others, including four from another Dallas school, historically black Paul Quinn College. Their chartered bus stopped in eight cities over eight days.

Another stop was Peaches Cafe, which owner Roderick Ephram says had been frequented by Freedom Riders in the 1960s.

Miss Matlock took the trip as an independent study for the liberal studies master’s degree she’s pursuing. The trip cost $275 per person.

The Rev. Michael W. Waters, pastor of Greater Garth Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Dallas, came up with the idea for civil rights trips in 2004 when he was a theology student at Southern Methodist University.

“I’ve always had a passion for the civil rights movement and in revisiting the achievements of the movement,” Mr. Waters says.

SMU’s chaplain’s office and the William P. Clements Department of History oversee the trips, which are supported by grants. Students who want three hours of academic credit must read material, watch videos, keep a journal and write a paper about the trip, says William M. Finnin Jr., SMU’s chaplain.

The trip focuses on the years 1955 to 1968, says SMU history professor Glenn Linden, who serves as trip historian and leads discussions about the sites and the videos the travelers watch en route.

“We have meetings in the evening, and we process it,” Mr. Linden says. “For a while, some of the white students feel anxious. Some of the black students begin to understand why their parents were trying to protect them and [they understand] what could happen to them in a fairly racist society.”

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