Exploring the history of the Civil Rights trail.

2021 marks the first year in which Juneteenth (also known as Black Independence Day) is recognized as a federal holiday.  The recognition comes after a very significant year for African Americans in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the subsequent protests that followed. After a rather tense time, recognition Juneteenth marks a long-awaited victory for African Americans.  In honor of Juneteenth being made a federal holiday, it is equally important to reflect on how America got to this point.

On June 23, at the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr, author Lee Sentell unveiled the US Civil Rights Trail Companion book.  The companion book complements the established U.S Civil Rights Trail, a group of around 120 landmarks across 14 states that were significant to the fight for civil rights. With landmarks such as the birthplace of Martin Luther King and the Penn School for freed slaves, the trail is a geographical history of the fight for civil rights.

The book itself features detailed images of some locations and a timeline of the civil rights movement inside.

Also unveiled at the June 23rd event was a restored Greyhound Bus; in honor of the 60th anniversary of the Freedom rides, in which civil rights activists rode in protest of racial segregation of public buses. Participants included John Lewis and Stokely Carmichael, who risked their lives riding interstate busses to gain true equality. Riders were often attacked by mobs simply for riding these buses.

Sophomore Sean Spinelli talked about how vital the artifacts and museums of these events are.

“It is important for events like these to exist so we can remember our past,” he said. “It also shows what the older generations went through when compared to the younger ones.”

While significant progress has happened since the 1950s, it is crucial to recognize that there still is work to be done. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed only 57 years ago.  Systematic disenfranchisement from Jim Crow Laws was legal for around 100 years before they were overturned. The last known survivor of the last U.S. slave ship only died 75 years ago.

While victories like Juneteenth are essential, there are still issues that affect the African American community today. For example, the state of Georgia is currently the subject of a lawsuit after Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law changes on the voting process that may violate the Voting Rights Act. The changes signed by Kemp intend, among other restrictions, to make it harder to use absentee ballots, a method used disproportionately by Black voters.

“The Official U.S. Civil Rights Trail: What Happened Here Changed the World” is on sale now.