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Trip Brings to Life African American U.S. Migration

Students spent spring break in Chicago immersed in ‘the great migration’ of African Americans from the Deep South to northern cities like Chicago. There they lived history.

“I was taking a part of the South
to transplant in alien soil,
to see if it could grow differently,
if it could drink of new and cool rains,
bend in strange winds,
respond to the warmth of other suns
and, perhaps, to bloom.”

– Richard Wright, poet who moved from the South to Chicago.

Between 1910 and 1970, some six million African Americans migrated from the American south to the urban cities of the Northeast, Midwest and West, to cities like Chicago. Recently 15 Ursinus students themselves journeyed to Chicago to explore the role of African American churches and social and political organizations in the Great Migration, as it is historically called.

The spring break trip is in its 12th year, and each year students take a journey through history, bringing to life the ways in which African American churches and social and political organizations have cultivated change. Traditionally the students travel through the Deep South, but their inspiration was the text for the class, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of the Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson, which takes its title from the Richard Wright poem.

Role of African American churches

“It was an amazing six-day educational seminar with my classmates,” said Jada Grice ’19. Students in the class “African American Religious Experience” visited several churches and community organizations.

“We attended two church services which were very different from each other – one a ‘mega church,’ and another church that has a tremendous community outreach but the church itself was not as grand or extravagant,” said Codi Yhap ’20, who noted that the group considered the difference between how each church reaches out to its community.

Grice told Lawndale Pastor Wayne Gordon that she was reading his book, Real Hope in Chicago, which highlighted community members he has mentored and helped. When she learned one of the central characters was in the room, “the whole group told me I lit up because it was like meeting your favorite character in a book,” she said.

In addition to Rev. Rice, students were accompanied by Rev. Dr. Claudia Highbaugh, dean of religious and spiritual life at Connecticut College and an Ursinus emerita board member; and Terrence Williams, director of diversity and inclusion at Ursinus.

Role of Martin Luther King Jr.

The group toured the Martin Luther King Jr. Fair Housing exhibit. Visiting the Martin Luther King Legacy Apartments and museum showed the pivotal role that King played in Chicago’s development. Other sites included The Rebuild Foundation, Marquette Park, (scene of King’s Chicago civil rights protest in 1966), St. Edmund’s Parish and Rockefeller Chapel, and a meeting at Invisible Institute, a journalistic production company which has as its mission enhancing the capacity of citizens to hold public institutions accountable.

“The experience has been enriching because it has shown me how much I was unaware of,” said Yhap. “The glimpses we get of Chicago from the media, especially from late news reports, show only parts of the story that must be told about Chicago. It is not a city of violence, but a city of division and congregation as well as development.” – by Wendy Greenberg