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Civil Rights Pilgrimage

Download Civil Rights Pilgrimage flyer (PDF)

Pilgrimage testimonials:

Dominique Turner, April 2016:
  • “It was a great experience to be able to share a space with several intellectual African-American professors at once. I was able to talk with just about every professor that went on the trip,”
  • ”My curiosity was already through the roof and after this trip, I’ve grown more intrigued with African-American history.”


Janet Weaver, April 2016:
  • “I enjoyed this year’s pilgrimage just as much as I did the one two years ago. You two (Curls and Gibson) do such a wonderful job of planning the trip! The places we visit, your lectures, films and our discussions provide students (me!) with the richest of learning environments.
  • “Thank you for making me feel welcome to get on the bus and learn.”

The Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley Brooks Institute is proud to support one of the college’s premiere experiences, its annual Civil Rights Pilgrimage.

Since 2002, students, instructors and community members have traveled to the American South on a trip, exploring the rich cultural history of our country’s civil rights movement.

Lorriane HotelEvery spring, MCC hosts a four day bus tour in April, traveling to destinations that mark milestone events, many consider sacred to the expression of freedom in the United States. MCC encourages you to consider making the next bus journey, a part of your own memories.

The images recorded during Metropolitan Community College’s annual Civil Rights Pilgrimage never fail to evoke strong emotions.

“They are stepping back in time and looking at civil rights and what that means,” says Dr. Karen Curls, MCC-Penn Valley’s Social Sciences Division Chair and the pilgrimage founder.

Curls says, “I have gone to Birmingham and I know it enhances students’ view on the criminal justice system.”

To prepare for the trip, students will either take an African American history course or a course that introduces them to criminal justice, MCC history instructor Lyle Gibson teaches the historical aspects, relevant to those participating in the pilgrimage and Curls introduces students to the laws and legal implications of the civil rights movement.

“I joined the pilgrimage during the spring/summer intercession in 2005,” says Gibson, adding, “It’s one thing to study and teach history, however it’s another thing to visit the historical places. One of the most memorable moments was our trip to Tuskegee University in Alabama. On the evening we arrived, we were allowed to walk the campus grounds. As I stood in a central area of the campus, not too far from the cemetery plots of Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver, I realized that our work as educators should not be limited to the four walls of our institutions, but in addition, we must engage our students in diverse places, and no better place than a historical site.”

The pilgrimage covers one of two sides of the south. All of the pilgrimages include a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tn. Other cities on the tours have included, but are not limited to: Jackson, Ms., Baton Rouge, La., New Orleans, La., Mobile, Al., Selma, Al., Montgomery, Al., Birmingham, Al., Tuskegee, Al. and Atlanta, Ga.

Curls says, for her, there are too many special moments, on what some feel is a spiritual journey, to declare one experience as the most outstanding.

Martin Luther King“Crossing the Independence Bridge in memorable in Selma, Martin Luther King’s memorial in Montgomery, standing out looking out on the balcony where King was assassinated.  It just goes on and on,” recites Curls.

Curls’ curriculum that prepares students for the experience does not stay rooted in the past. In class, she says they discuss the residual effects of the civil rights movement and whether the movement is manifested in the future.

Curls, says, “We go all the way up to age of Obama.”

For those interested in going on the pilgrimage:

The pilgrimage is open to students, employees and community members. To prepare for the pilgrimage, students will enroll in HIST 140 or CRJU 101. To enroll strictly in the pilgrimage, students can enroll in HIST 199A or CRJU 167A. Check course availability.

For more information, contact the division in Room 301 of the Humanities Building or call 816.604.4282.

About Dr. Karen Curls:

Curls has worked at MCC more than 20 years. In 2003, she was honored with a Governor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

About Lyle Gibson:

Gibson has been an MCC faculty member since 2004, teaching U.S. history and African-American history at MCC-Penn Valley. He was a Fulbright Scholar and studied West African culture in Senegal during the summer of 1999. He continues to incorporate aspects of his studies there into his lectures today.