In June 2018, Indivisible Colusa volunteer Linda Masuhara traveled through the South with her husband Kevin on a “civil rights road trip”—an itinerary they created to deepen their understanding of Black Americans’ struggle for equal rights. In our July 6, 2020 newsletter, we published a condensed version of our interview with Linda about their trip. This is the complete interview.
What inspired you to take this journey?
After watching the movie Selma in 2015 I decided to research that event more because I felt like I really didn’t know very much about it. I had heard the term “Bloody Sunday” and knew about the fight for voting rights in the south but only vaguely.
As I researched the events in Selma in 1965 I was shocked to learn about so many more civil rights incidents that I had never even heard about, such as the lynching of Emmett Till. I had NEVER heard of Emmett Till until 2015!
That made me realize that there was so much of our nation’s history that I needed to learn more about. That eventually led me to learning about the Equal Justice Initiative and their work. Then by 2018 the EJI was getting ready to open The National Memorial For Peace And Justice (aka The Lynching Memorial) and I was determined to visit that memorial. So the plans for a trip began to form. I made a list of places in the south I wanted to visit:
Are there some places you found especially moving or insightful?
There were 3 places that were the most moving for me.
The first was walking through the Lynching Memorial and seeing the steel structures with the names of all of the victims of lynchings engraved on them. They are suspended above you, and as you walk through, the floor slopes slightly causing the steel markers to be hanging higher and higher above your head. You don’t really notice that this is happening until you get to the end and they are hanging way above your head as if dangling from a tree. At this point you walk through a hallway with hundreds of plaques describing some of the victims' stories. Being lynched for things like reprimanding a white child who threw a rock at them, or helping black people register to vote, or talking to a white woman.
I literally felt physically ill after leaving this memorial.
The second very emotional place was The Lorraine Motel. It is now a Civil Rights Museum that walks you through the history of Black Americans from slavery until the day Dr. King was assassinated. As you get to the end you are looking at the actual room he stayed in the night before. You are reading the plaques describing the last moments of his life - who he was talking to and what he said. And then it says for you to turn around, and when you do you realize that you are standing on the balcony just a few feet away from the spot where his life ended.
This was very emotional for me. I think because it is one of my earliest memories of the Civil Rights Movement. I remember seeing that famous picture in the newspaper.
There was also a museum across the street which is where the gunman shot him from. We did not go into that museum. It was just too emotional for me at that point. And I wasn’t interested in seeing the gunman’s vantage point.
The third emotional site for me was the River Site on the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi where Emmett Till’s body was found. This spot was the last place we went to on the Emmett Till trail and I was so overwhelmed with grief that I couldn’t get out of the car. So I stayed in the car while my husband got out and took the pictures.
Do you feel changed after the trip?
I do. But not in a good way. The two main take-aways for me after this trip are
Did you have any experiences that make you feel hopeful for progress?
For the 2 years since this trip I felt very hopeless. I felt that our country has failed in so many ways to be a great nation.
Now, after the horrific death of George Floyd and seeing the Black Lives Matter movement go mainstream I am more hopeful that just maybe we will begin as a nation to start the journey to become a great America. In my opinion, you can’t “Make America Great Again” if it never was. But you can begin the work of “Making America Great” by acknowledging our roots in white supremacy and making real changes in regards to systemic racism. I have some hope.
One last thing
I created a Facebook group as a way to share my vacation photos with some of my friends and family. It included about 40 people. After we got back from the trip I felt like the group on Facebook could still be a way to educate people about these and other historical events in America so I made the group public and would periodically share articles about Civil Rights in it. I didn’t get very much interaction from any of my friends and family in the group, but I did have an occasional stranger somehow find it on Facebook and request to join it. And then George Floyd happened. Suddenly the group went from 40 to about 150! And most of them are people I don’t even know. I think this is just one small way I am becoming part of the solution rather than staying comfortable in my White Privilege which is definitely part of the problem.
Learn more: Join the Civil Rights Road Trip Facebook group
National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., also known as the Lynching Memorial.