On March 4, Sanford’s Policy in Living Color (PLC) club led a field trip to Greensboro, NC to visit the International Civil Rights Museum, a place built around an iconic Civil Rights Movement site: the Woolworth department store’s lunch counter where four Black men conducted a sit-in to protest the counter being off-limits to Black customers. To be in the museum is to be where history was made—where the Greensboro 4, as the men are known, took a seat… to take a stand.
The PLC museum visit was conceived of by Mona Zahir, the club’s Alumni Relations CHAIR. As a North Carolina native, she’s long familiar with the museum. In fact, while attending nearby Winston-Salem State University, students were required to visit it each year, and she wanted to share that tradition with Sanford. Below is additional trip details, and a collection of reactions from students who participated.
The field trip began with a pleasant Amtrak ride—our group filling up almost a whole car, chatting and delighting in free coffee and water (because we’re broke students). About an hour later, we arrived in Greensboro, deboarded into the chilly but sunny open air, and headed to the museum.
When we arrived, we were introduced to our tour guide, La'Tonya Wiley. Wiley proved a superb guide, expertly summarizing the history emphasized in each exhibit, engaging us with questions, and answering our own. In fact, she seemed to find our collective inquisitiveness amusingly unique (she even joked about the particular… loquaciousness… of yours truly – I felt called out but also seen).
Anyway, on to the important details. The museum covered the stages of the sit-in (origins, growth, counter-protesters, municipality and business response, when and how it ended), pre-movement horrific lynchings and Jim Crow policies (like voting manipulations), the role of churches and universities in the Civil Rights Movement, the movement’s unsung heroes, and more. At the end, Wiley asked how we all planned to build upon the work of the Greensboro 4 and so many others then and since. She’d recontextualize our answers in a way that instilled an almost binding commitment within us. Her message was clear: visiting that museum and reliving the history is important, but it’s not enough. There is much more ahead for all of us. She expects us to put in work, and she believes we can and will.
Cue my own personal reflection on the experience.
During the tour, one thing that struck me was the recency of the Civil Rights Movement and its preceding horrors. I have known how recent it is, but for some reason, the notion was especially potent during this tour—perhaps partly due to hearing Emmett Till’s accuser is still alive (right in North Carolina!). Thinking about the recency made my answer to Wiley’s end-of-tour question especially clear. I plan to tell stories that generate universal, uncontested acknowledgment of this recency of brutality against Black people in America; and how the recency means the damage undeniably lingers in the form of ubiquitous systemic racism. In telling those truths in a way that makes them indelibly accepted, I hope to thereby help actualize the full justice and equality the Civil Rights Movement strove for.
With that, I cede the rest of this piece to my peers’ thoughts on the field trip.
Cameron Oglesby, MPP ‘23
“The museum was fabulously curated… It was very beautifully, intentionally done. The different media they used was so engaging. But there’s too much to cover. It warrants more than two hours. Also, notably, the tour was better than if we were just reading things, because our tour guide provided context, and her call to action at the end was nice. It made me see that people believe in the work I’m doing. Her ‘you're next’ implication—the knowledge that the youth before were leading these charges too—it makes me proud to be doing what I'm doing."
Ana Phakin, MPP ’24
“One of my takeaways from the visit was how the past was still present, and the fight for civil rights and human dignity is just as important now as it was before. When we walked through the education section and saw the Little Rock Central High School exhibit, I thought of the student walkout that occurred at Central HS the day before our visit. It was a school-wide protest against education legislation to weaken public school funding/ban critical race theory, and Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders' exploitation of the Central HS legacy to advance these types of policies. I thought the guide ended the tour on a high note when she asked us to consider our part in the tapestry of this country. I really enjoyed the visit and was glad to experience it, especially with the PLC group!”
Antonio Butler, MPP ‘23
“My takeaway was: We’ve gotta get to work. Putting it in the context of Sanford and what we go through, we’ve definitely gotta bring Sanford to account for a lot of the wrongs and issues they bring and put on students of color. But I’m thankful that we got to do this [field trip]—shoutout to PLC for putting it together. It was an amazing experience.”
Jide Olutoke, MPP ’23
"This was one more thing to learn about the South. It was an interesting experience… Even though I haven’t been to Greensboro, I feel like it’s part of North Carolina history so getting to see it is kind of cool. Also, about the whole Black experience, it’s something I am getting to learn more about. I really love human rights. It’s a great experience. Thanks to those who planned it –I’m really happy they planned this all."
Hayley Barton, MPP ‘24
“I think it’s good to be confronted with that past and that history frequently, and then again as others have said, to think about with our career and our lives: ‘how are we contributing to this history?’ [The tour guide] kept talking about how it’s a tapestry—it’s very complicated, but everyone’s leaving some kind of mark, so I thought that was cool. It was a great trip.”
Tim Lindsay, MPP ’23
“I felt the museum reinvigorated or re-instilled a sense of purpose of why we’re in school, thinking about what we can do not only in our careers, but in our personal lives as well. Seeing the sacrifices the Greensboro 4, the women in the movement, and other people have made throughout the Civil Rights Movement really inspired me.”
Omolayo Ojurongbe, MPP ’24
“I really enjoyed the tour. I think that everyone, especially if they’re a student at Sanford, should go to the International Civil Rights Museum. It’s crazy that a lot of the history is right here where we’re living, and I think it’s crazy it wasn’t that long ago, and unfortunately, we’re still dealing with some of the issues that civil rights leaders were advocating for 40-50-60 years ago. After leaving the museum, I feel passionate about going out there and hopefully making some of the changes these leaders and activists were advocating for back then, and hopefully, we can live up to the mission and the plan they set in mind.”
Ryan Rudolph, MPP ‘23
“It was interesting and powerful being in hallowed ground like that. In high school, you look at photos of that lunch counter. But to actually be there in person and to realize a lot of the sacrifices that were made by folks who were in similar positions, even worse positions, it’s quite impactful. It puts it all in perspective of how much it took to get to where we are as grad students at Duke, but also shows how much work that we need to put in to continue to be sure that changes are made, and that we continue to make a positive impact, for not only ourselves, but our communities and our families.”
Rachel Fowler, MPP ‘23
“I really appreciated learning about the Bennett Belles and how … they were the ones behind the idea of the sit-ins, and hearing that history of it. Even though their names and faces weren’t at the forefront of the movement, they’re the ones who, in my mind, started it, so I appreciated that the tour guide called that out.”
Christian Jones, MNSP ’24
I immensely enjoyed my museum experience. Though I'd conducted research about student involvement during the Civil Rights Movement as an undergraduate, I was still amazed at how much information is not generally displayed about the movement and the roles of many whose contributions remain overlooked. This opportunity was undoubtedly memorable and resonated with me as a Sanford student in the (new) Master of National Security Policy program because the museum includes a remarkable feature of the iconic Tuskegee Airmen. The service of these Black American military members and the civilians who contributed to the "experiment," during a time when Black brains were considered incapable of airmanship, paved the way for new altitudes of national security. This exhibit, which places you [in the presence] of a uniform worn by an actual hero, and the other [exhibits] inspire me [and others, I assume] to continue to soar in our respective areas of policy and continue to take humanity to new heights.
Mona Zahir, MPP ‘23
How the tour was different this time around:
I think it was different because us as a group, being policy students, the way we were able to engage with our guide, La'Tonya, the questions we were asking, and the conversations that came out of it, comes through the lens of us having a desire to be catalysts for change. It spurred a different experience than [I’ve had] before.
What she hopes attendees got out of it:
I hope everyone gets the nuance and the necessity of how we must reconcile and experience all of America’s history, including the egregious parts of it, because those parts are essential to the foundation of the resilience and progress that has been made. Too often, even in the classroom, we try to parse different parts of American history and stick to a particular lens, but they’re all intertwined. I don’t think you can really understand and celebrate the glory of a country like this [and celebrate the people who fought to make that change] if you don’t understand the rotten roots and pain points in which it started. It’s only with major introspection, examination, and reconciliation of our history that we can rightfully honor and celebrate the people who fought to evolve our nation, including Black women [as we learned at the museum], because there’s so many unspoken voices that happened behind the scenes and too often the brave, everyday leaders don’t get credit.
Her own overall takeaways:
It’s one thing to go through these experiences and process it alone, but there’s a collective charge when you do it as a group. I felt the energy of having this experience with people I actually go to school with impacted me differently than the times before that I’ve visited. [Especially the last part of the exhibit], to have conversation about how each of us are going to fill in the [blank spaces of what’s next] really gave me chills because it’s something that I really believe is going to happen. It’s just a necessary reminder of our history, but also an important charge of ‘this is why we do what we do, why we chose to go to public policy school,’ and we owe it to ourselves and each other to hold each other accountable, and we also owe it to the history and legacy of what this country should be.
I think Dr. Carr from Howard University says: ‘America is one big social project’, and going through the museum this time, all the things we study in the classroom, and connecting our past to shape the future of the social project, just really came into light all over again. It’s a reminder I feel you constantly need. These systems are designed to keep us complacent or to get comfortable with minimal progress, but structures like this, being at a historic and heritage site… it just creates a spark. We have to, as [our classmate] Rob would say, ‘move urgently.’ That’s what that trip did for me, especially going with [everyone]. So, I’m grateful for it.”