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August 30, 2011 > Summer internship spotlights Civil Rights

Summer internship spotlights Civil Rights

Photos By Maggie Tsai

Fremont's Mission San Jose High School students participated in a summer internship at the Martin Luther King Center at Stanford University. Their focus of study was the Civil Rights Movement with an emphasis on the Freedom Rides; this past May marked the 60th anniversary of the riders' accomplishments. The experience was to cultivate the importance of primary source documents, appreciate absent voices that often don't make it into high school text books and help students realize how past events connect to the present.

The King Center has an abundance of resources and documents that have been transformed to digital form making accessibility of primary sources easier. Dr. Carson, professor and director of the program, who graciously allowed the students to use the center, presented historical facts of the time and arranged for various experts to work directly with the students as they grappled with research questions and documents.

-Risha Krishna, Ethnic Studies Teacher/Social Studies Co-Chair, MSJHS

Eight MSJHS students participated in the Stanford internship: Clara Cheng, Alice Chu, Harpreet Gill, Nikhil Krishna, Neha Pal, Maya Ramachandran, Shravya Sanagala and Maggie Tsai. Two students detail their experiences in this articled:

By Clara Cheng:
Civil Rights is a subject found throughout our school career from the little rip-out-and-fold books in kindergarten to U.S. History in the eighth grade. Throughout our student life, we have seen pictures of Dr. Martin Luther King and heard excerpts from his "I Have A Dream" speech. It was easy to assume that this man was singlehandedly responsible for leading such a powerful movement. But I was able to gain a different perspective when my schoolmates and I had the opportunity for an internship at the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University.

It was an interesting experience; dealing with morning rush hour traffic on Hwy 101 to admiration of the Rodin sculptures at Stanford campus. For the first time, I had a glimpse of college life. We were welcomed by a warm, helpful and personable professional office staff who began to assist us right away with books, websites, a plethora of documents and video clips. Our task was to prepare a presentation about the Freedom Rides.

This assignment proved to be much more difficult than most research assignments I have encountered; numerous documents offered so much information and new perspectives. My partner and I searched for those that would fit our premise. It was really interesting, to see letters, telegrams, and thoughts of so many prominent individuals who participated in the Freedom Rides - it was as if we were reliving their dreams and aspirations. A document that my partner and I found particularly interesting was a letter from a woman named Patricia Jenkins to Dr. King. Jenkins was a student in California who said that she was an avid supporter of the Civil Rights movement but felt detached and at a loss for what to do considering the distance between her and hotspots of the movement. She asked Dr. King for some advice. He replied that distance should not hinder her ability to take action and that it was every American's moral obligation to do so.

What struck us the most was the motivation and courage among the Freedom Riders, who at the time were only a few years older than us. They stood up for their beliefs regardless of whether they faced losing an opportunity for education, getting arrested, or even killed. With valor and persistence, they achieved not only rights for interstate travel, but raised awareness of the brutality of segregation and the strength of non-violence.

Our research showed that although Dr. King was a key figure, the persistent and steadfast support of these young people galvanized the movement and made it a success. Young people represent the future of a society and a nation; it is we who must fight for what is right just as the changes that Freedom Riders wanted to see in their lifetime.

Overall, it was a fascinating experience that emphasized the role and contributions made by the young. I walked away with so much more than I expected; it was definitely a highlight of my summer.

By Alice Chu:
Inside a room, nine people sat; six reading from computer screens, occasionally jotting something down, and three flipping through thick books. The only sound that could be heard was construction noises outside. The weather was nice; hot but with a cool summer breeze blowing through the window. For about a week, we entered this cozy atmosphere every day from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., participating in an internship hosted by the Martin Luther King Jr. Center at Stanford University. We settled into the library with our two TAs (Teaching Assistants), and our history and Ethnic Studies teacher, Mrs. Krishna, while we researched historical events, actually one particular subset of a historical event: The Freedom Rides - one of the crucial fights to achieve desegregation during the Civil Rights Movement. Prior to visiting the King Institute, the team spent numerous hours learning about civil rights in afterschool sessions and weekly summer meetings.

The first day began quite well. Bright and bushy-tailed, we were introduced to the Teaching Assistants, Regina and Alex, both of whom work at the King Center. In the library, we watched two movies, one about the primary documents at the King Center and another about the Freedom Rides. Then we were taken on a campus tour of the beautiful Stanford campus and introduced to Dr. Carson, the man behind the center. Our conversation with Dr. Carson was enjoyable and helped us ease into our work which started the following day. He really got us thinking and presented a unique perspective of the Civil Rights Movement that challenged us with metaphors and comparisons of major historical documents.

The following days, though not unpleasant, were not all fun and games. After being introduced the system at the King Center, we began our research, knowing that in just a few days, we would have to present a report to Dr. Carson, a man who has written six volumes on Dr. King and has done years of research on this movement. All I could think was, "We had better make it good."

We combed through the archives, finding everything related to Freedom Rides narrowing the documents to the ones we wanted. At times, this was frustrating, especially when you can't seem to find any documents that fit. But through this process, our group built teamwork skills; we learned to divide the work and conquer. We worked to answer a central question: "How did the relentless motivation of the Freedom Riders impact the future of the movement?" This question was divided into three sections. Team One - Neha and Clara - explored the motivations behind the Freedom Riders; Team Two - Harpreet and Maya - tackled the question of courage and how the riders summoned the courage to sign their last will and testament before getting on that bus; Team Three - Maggie and I - uncovered the actual impact of the Freedom Rides on the Movement.

Day by day, we searched through the archives and prepared our presentation. On the day of presentation, we all felt the excitement and satisfaction of finally presenting the results of our work. How we selected our favorite quotes, explaining the context and why it meant so much to us would probably take too long in this summary and might bore you. It is, however, the experience that came with the preparation that was most meaningful.

When I look back, I found that I learned a new respect for research. Before the internship, I merely did research, accepted the facts as true, and felt a distant appreciation the actions of those involved. But this experience gave me a new type of respect: riders as people who gave up college and possible careers and took risks that they knew could possibly cost their lives. You can see them as men and women who went beyond themselves and their own situations; they thought about the direction of the country and the future of others.

We feel thankful when realizing just how much they sacrificed. And, we learned that real respect is honoring their sacrifices by never forgetting that today, we are riding on their coat-tails. Real respect is when you remember that freedom is not free; it is achieved by the struggles of those before us... quite an educational learning experience for one week, right?

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