March 2020 Vassar Alumnae/i Trip to the Civil Rights South
Carmen McGill is chairperson of the Black History Project Committee and the co-facilitator with Katherine Hite of the BHPC’s “Celebrating the African Spirit” memorial project, a now multi-year project to mark historic sites and create a memorial to the enslaved Africans of Poughkeepsie and their descendants. Jackie Harper is another longtime member of the BHPC and the point person for our Site and Design Subcommittee of the memorial project. Both were thrilled that Vassar afforded them this opportunity.
The 28-member Vassar Alumnae trip began in Jackson, Mississippi, and traveled through Arkansas, Memphis, Tennessee, and Montgomery, Alabama, ending the journey at the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice. We shared the struggles, pain, hopes, and possibilities, from the brutal murder of Emmett Till in 1954, through the history of the struggle to desegregate Little Rock’s Central High School, voting rights, and the fight to end Jim Crow, to current efforts for racial equality. It was both moving and inspiring.
CEIH’s support for Carmen McGill and Jackie Harper’s participation in the trip also helped solidify Vassar’s connection to ongoing efforts in the City of Poughkeepsie to confront the legacies of white supremacy. This includes the current Intensive, “Legal Challenges: Local Interventions in the Criminal-Legal System,” co-taught by professors Hite and Jeffrey Schneider and involving ten Vassar students. The Intensive includes shared readings and discussions, special guests, and virtual participation in meetings and initiatives, ranging from attendance at City of Poughkeepsie Common Council and Dutchess County meetings related to the proposed Civilian Review Board and other police transparency and accountability efforts, to work with ENJAN, CAS, La Voz, Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson and Exodus.