University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee sophomore Alicia Skeeter is excited about the opportunity to go back 50 years in time and immerse herself in the Civil Rights Movement.
Skeeter is one of 40 students nationwide who were selected to take part in a Student Freedom Ride May 6-16. The event is a re-creation of the Freedom Rides that started in 1961 to challenge the South’s segregation of passengers in interstate travel. The Public Broadcasting System (PBS)’s “American Experience” is sponsoring the bus trip, and will broadcast a documentary May 16 on the original Freedom Riders.
“I hope this ride can be an example of students today who are engaged and active,” she says. “Civil rights isn’t just a thing of the 1960s. This ride is a way to show students how to be civically engaged in their communities.”
The 10-day Student Freedom Ride bus trip will retrace some of the routes of the 1961 Freedom Rides. Students will stop at historic civil rights sites and cities throughout the South, starting in Washington, D.C., and ending in New Orleans.
Skeeter is a sophomore in the School of Education, majoring in educational policy and community studies. She always has been interested in issues of social and racial justice and education, she says, so when she heard about the Student Freedom Ride in February, she applied. “The trip just sounded incredible,” she says. “It appealed to everything I’m interested in.”
The trip falls right at the end of the spring semester, so Skeeter will be bringing her books and projects with her to work on as she travels through the South. Knowing what she’s doing, her professors have been flexible about project due dates and final exams.
Skeeter grew up in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park area and graduated from Rufus King High School. Her career goal is to become a teacher in the public schools and eventually an administrator or policymaker. “I want to promote social justice and be very involved in bringing about change.”
That focus helps her identify with the Freedom Riders of 1961, blacks and whites who united – in spite of violence directed against them – to protest racial segregation and force changes. While students today don’t always appreciate the sacrifices and even brutality the riders endured, Skeeter is hopeful they understand the historic impact. “I think people my age have some idea of why these things happened, and most understand the implications of these rides. They really desegregated public transportation.”
While she wouldn’t describe herself as a history buff, says Skeeter, she is deeply interested in how historic events shape current policies and attitudes. “I value history, and this is a way to really be engaged with it. It’s an opportunity to become even more committed and learn more about the history of our country and the Civil Rights Movement.” One of her goals is to share what she learns with her friends and fellow students through social media.
Modern social media is multiplying the impact of the 50th anniversary Student Freedom Ride. Several of the student riders appeared on “Oprah” May 4 with some of the original riders, and Skeeter will be tweeting and posting stories and photos about her journey on both her personal social media sites and through the PBS Freedom Riders website.
Watch videos of Skeeter and an excerpts from the documentary on the 1961 Freedom Riders.