Players from both Appalachian State and Toledo spent Thursday morning taking in the civil rights history of the Capital City before resuming practice for the third annual Raycom Media Camellia Bowl.
Appalachian State players spent an hour or so at the Civil Rights Memorial Center, site of the nationally acclaimed Civil Rights Memorial designed by Maya Lin in 1989 that lists the names of 41 people killed in the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s.
“It’s really nice and enlightening,” said Dante Jones, a junior wide receiver from Raleigh, N.C. “Growing up, you see things and learn things like Martin Luther King or Emmett Till, but you don’t learn the exact specifics.
When you come to a place like this, they enlighten you on exactly what happened. For example, I didn’t know the (Montgomery) Bus Boycott lasted 381 days until I got here. I thought it was maybe a week. Coming here let me learn things like that.”
Till was a 14-year-old from Chicago who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955, putting a national spotlight on the brutality associated with the civil rights movement for the first time.
Appalachian State players were originally slated to tour the Rosa Parks Library and Museum ahead of Toledo players, but chose a different site after visiting the Rosa Parks Museum on their trip to Montgomery for the 2015 Camellia Bowl.
“It was a little bit different, it was more focused on the bus and Rosa Parks,” Jones said of the Civil Rights Memorial Center. “This was a little more of a wide spectrum, a lot more Deep South. I didn’t know Emmett Till was from Chicago. I thought he was from the South.”
The Toledo players, visiting the Capital City for the first time, seemed as impressed with the Rosa Parks Library and Museum, established on the site of the Empire Theatre where Mrs. Parks was pulled off of the bus and arrested by Montgomery Police in 1955.
“It was a great experience,” said junior cornerback Jordan Martin of Upper Marlboro, Md. “We got to learn about a lot of individuals we had never heard of and listen to the story about Rosa Parks. Being in this place, you can feel it. It’s just a different vibe, like you can feel the spirits. I can’t explain it, it’s just something you have to experience for yourself.”
“This museum was really awesome,” echoed senior safety Connery Swift of Waynesboro, Va. “I really enjoyed every aspect of it. The playback of the night on the bus, the actual action that she did, seeing that in real time hit home for me. That really touched me and made me realize the impact she had on the whole movement.”
The Thursday morning stop was one of the highlights for Camellia Bowl officials, who want to emphasize the historical aspects of Montgomery as a selling point for the bowl game that features teams from the Sun Belt and Mid-American conferences.
“This isn’t one of the bowls you come to party, this is one where you come and learn a lot,” Jones said. “This is the place where the Civil War started. Right around the corner, you can see Martin Luther King’s church. It’s really nice.”