What does it mean to be a global citizen? I like to think it means one is in touch with the trials and tribulations of peoples around the world. From Syrian refugees escaping war to the LGBTQ community fighting for their rights in Russia. The very foundation of who were are as a species is built on the idea that all humans deserve certain inalienable rights. Human Rights. And it’s through accepting this premise as truth that we have to explore the realities of our pasts to ensure a better future.
So when the United States Civil Rights trail reached out to me in promoting their newly launched trail, I was more than excited. I was humbled. You see I’m a northerner. I grew up in Cleveland Ohio but moved to Texas as an adult. Growing up in Cleveland race relations weren’t perfect. But I never feared for my safety as a young black man. A stark contrast, historically and presently, to life in the Southern United States. Which was especially highlighted once I moved to Abilene Texas.
Embedded deep in Southern culture are the roots of the Civil Rights Movement. A movement that not only bettered the lives of millions of marginalized peoples in the U.S. but around the world. Making the United States Civil Rights Trail an absolute must visit.
The Importance of Identity
As a global traveler, I find myself constantly bombarded by culture. Not only by others but by my own. I’m frequently the first, and sometimes only, African American people have met. Making me the defacto representative for our entire community beyond what’s portrayed in the media. Like it or not. This designation or position comes with certain responsibilities. Primarily, a responsibility to represent my community in the best way possible when abroad. And part of that comes with answering the inevitable questions about race in America.
While most of us have a solid grasp of the Civil Rights movement and it’s prominent figures, few have actually visited and explored places significant to the movement. Especially those of us from the North. I’ve long been an advocate for domestic travel within the U.S. And there’s no better way to start than with an exploration of identity in the southern United States. While at times difficult, an exploration of the past can explain some of the trials and tribulations we face today. Possibly giving us the tools we need to not repeat the sins of our past.
History of the Marginalized is American History
It’s impossible to write American history without the history of marginalized peoples. African-Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ peoples, and women have long been systemically marginalized in the United States. And the struggle for equality that these communities faced, and still face today, is an integral part of our nation’s history. And in 2018, these struggles are just as much a part of the cultural narrative as it was in the 1960’s. The major difference, now these issues are broadcast globally within the reach of the internet.
When travelers from other countries visit the United States they want to explore not only the sights and sounds of the US, but it’s history. Part of that history includes the pursuit of equality. And there’s no better place to explore and study that pursuit than the Southern United States and the important sites located there. For quite some time, these sites were only known by Americans and the most intrepid of international travelers. Now, with the creation of the United States Civil Rights Trail, travelers from around the world can explore this vital part of American history.
What is the United States Civil Rights Trail?
In 2015 Jonathan Jarvis, the head of the US National Parks Service, issued a directive for civil rights sites with cultural and historical importance to achieve UNESCO World Heritage site status. In an effort to assist with this goal, Georgia State University history professor Glenn Eskew created a list of 60 places with strong connections to the movement. With the help and guidance of historians, professors, community leaders, travel professionals, and tourism board directors across 14 states, the list of sites has expanded to 100 significant locations. With an official trail developed in its wake.
This month the United States Civil Rights Trail is officially open. The aim of the Civil Rights Trail is to expose and educate travelers to the true history of the Civil Rights movement. By creating a unified network of sites and information making this transformative journey easier and more fulfilling. Allowing guests to walk the same streets as prominent leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks. You can visit Little Rock Central High School and see where the Little Rock Nine had to be escorted by soldiers to attend classes. Or schedule a tour of civil rights leader Medgar Ever’s Home which was recently designated a National Historic Landmark. With 100 sites to explore, you’ll have a trip to truly remember.
As travelers, we traverse the world for different reasons. Some of us travel to relax. Some of us travel for love. And some of us travel to discover ourselves. I believe that before we can truly discover who we are as individuals, we must explore where we came from. The Civil Rights Movement in the United States not only defined our nation but had ripple effects around the world. Changing the very course of human history. The US Civil Rights Trail gives us all the opportunity to efficiently explore one of the most important movements in human history. This experience is a must for any traveler and I’m extremely proud to advocate for it.