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Statues at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Freedom Rides Give Students New Perspectives on Race and Faith

  • By: Charles Harrell Johnson, III
  • Published:
Group of students at the Martin Luther King National Historical Park.

At Taylor, we learn by doing–and going. From in-class projects to study abroad experiences, Taylor students are invested and engaged every step of the way. 

Over 20 years ago, the idea was born to take students in groups on short, intense trips to explore historical sites relating to civil rights, helping them understand some of the historical and cultural forces that continue to shape our world. Called "Freedom Rides," these bus trips welcome all students, faculty, and staff to challenge assumptions, make cultural connections, and apply historical knowledge to current issues. 

The Power of Experiencing Civil Rights Sites Firsthand

Freedom Rides provide rich opportunities to engage racial issues from a biblical perspective. Each trip varies in location, giving students valuable experiences across Ohio, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Washington, DC.

The third Selma to Montgomery march ended at the Alabama State Capitol steps on March 25, 1965.

The trips are now led by Vice President for Spiritual Life and Intercultural Leadership Rev. Gregory Dyson and Professor of Global Studies and Honors Guild Director Dr. Scott Moeschberger.

"We live in a world that’s extremely complicated and polarized, and it’s hard to have different perspectives," said Dyson. "With these trips, we go with no agenda. We’re just taking students to see the locations firsthand, and allow them to formulate an informed opinion about what they see and experience."

Students visited the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta.

Political Science, Philosophy, & Economics major Micah Pinson ‘26, credits the trip’s success to its high value at a low price. Over the course of five days, Pinson studied important pieces of history at the Civil Rights sculptures at Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, Alabama, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, and 800 monuments dedicated to victims of racial terrorism at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.

"I absolutely loved all the places we were able to visit and discuss, and learn about the struggles and triumphs of people like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr," Pinson said.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated on April 4, 1968 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN.

At the National Civil Rights Museum in the Lorraine Motel, Pinson was impacted by seeing Room 306, the room where King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Despite the tragedy’s damaging effects, Pinson saw God using King’s legacy to draw many people to Himself.

“It is a powerful statement to glorify God even through so much sadness,” Pinson said.

Because of the intensity of so many of the sites, Freedom Rides are designed to allow students to actively grapple with what they were experiencing, assisted by Moeschberger and Dyson. Before and after visiting each location, students process their experiences through group discussions and activities. They present a poster board with one word describing how they felt before and after each trip.

Psychology major Eyoatam Workneh ’24 says her views on race were positively changed because of the trip.

“I was looking forward to it, but I did not know that was going to hit me that much,” she said. ”Coming back, I would definitely say my views on African American culture completely shifted. Now when I hear stories, I hear with empathy even though I haven't experienced the same things.”

This monument in Franklin, TN, honors the 180,000 Black soldiers who served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

Engaging with History, Rooting our Faith

For Taylor students such as Pinson and Workneh, gaining understanding about faith and race was key to seeing racial issues from a Christian perspective.

Their tour’s first stop was Strong Tower Bible Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Here, students experienced dynamic worship in a diverse congregation, a reminder of Taylor University’s desire to integrate faith and learning.

Over the course of the trip, both Pinson and Workneh developed new perspectives on race and faith, better preparing them to share God’s love with others.

"As believers, we must make sure that we engage history in a way that we can learn from and better root our faith," Pinson said. "History has many dark paths, including the Civil Rights era, but it also has a bright ending."

"As Christians, we need to understand and help one another," Workneh said. "Dr. King responded to every single thing with love. To love one another means to show empathy, but we cannot show empathy if we don't understand culture. I believe going on the trip is like an outpouring of love in order to gain understanding."

Freedom Rides are open to all students and employees of Taylor University. 

Beyond the Classroom

With trips spanning from 1-5 days, the goal is to make Freedom Rides accessible to as many people as possible. Taylor plans to offer approximately three trips per year, with hopes to offer the experiences to alumni and parents in the near future. 

At Taylor, students regularly engage in hands-on educational experiences through various study abroad trips, J-term trips, and other events like the Freedom Rides. Schedule a campus visit to find out more!