PPS students visit Selma for 50th anniversary of civil rights march


Fifty  years ago, thousands of people marched from Selma to Birmingham, Alabama in the name of civil rights, carrying the body of an innocent man named Jimmy Lee Jackson. Less than 50 days ago, Cleveland English teacher Darryl Miles led a six day trip to Alabama with students from Grant High School and Cleveland senior Angela Schoepp, uniting with thousands more that flocked to the South on the 50th anniversary of the March in Selma.

“50 years ago, the voting rights act was put into place … but certain states, specifically 12 southern states that wanted to secede from the union were not honoring those laws in the way that they were to be honored,” Miles explained.

From March 4-9 the group filled their time with sight seeing historical monuments around the city. They started with visiting the historical African American college Tuskegee University, founded by Booker T. Washington, whose house the group visited as well.  While on campus, the group got the opportunity to walk through the museum of George Washington Carver.  Beginning Friday morning and continuing through Monday various lecturing events and activities were held throughout the city, including a mock trial that mimics the Supreme Court vs. NAACP voting rights act case that is held every few years.

“What people don’t realize is that the voting rights act is not a constitutional law,” stated Miles. Each time the case is renewed in court, there is always a possibility of the voting rights act being repealed. “So your right to vote could go away if this law gets repealed.”

“Out of the four years I’ve gone, this was the only year that all the kids got it,” said Miles. One of those students was senior Angela Schoepp. “The thing that she said she got was ‘now I can feel’ because she went to the place where [Martin Luther King, Jr.]  wrote … one of his most significant, powerful letters, [the Letter From Birmingham Jail], on toilet paper and in margins of newspaper –and so she was like ‘I see where the inspiration for these words comes from. I can feel it.’”

On Sunday March 8, Schoepp and the other students in the group, Miles and 80,000 other supporters went to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, to pay tribute to the original march.  People stood shoulder to shoulder filling up the streets for nearly a dozen blocks.

“People [from] all over the world were there of all colors, all ages, and it was just this moment that came across me where it was like ‘wow, all these people are here for the same cause,’” Schoepp explained.

In the past few years there has been a struggle to find people interested in going to Selma on this fieldtrip. Miles said, “There’s nothing that is more impactful than putting yourself in a place that you’re learning about.  I mean, you can be read the story, you can be lectured the story, you can do research and everything, but when you go to that place and you put your body in the same place as those people, you get a different experience.”