Junior Fellows Embark on Seven-State “Southern Culture” Tour

The Junior Fellows are set to embark on a five-day trip exploring the rich, contradictory, and fascinating culture of the southern United States.  The trip will span seven states, incorporating educational lessons in art, music, literature, motion pictures, history, the military, civil rights, and politics.  The students will also attend the Georgia Political Science Association annual conference, where they will discuss the 2012 presidential election and sundry scholarly topics.

Although the trip spans seven states, in many respects the students will be exploring events that are seemingly worlds apart. In Montgomery, Alabama, for example, the students will see the massive confederate memorial on the state capitol grounds, the Southern Law Poverty Center’s impressive civil rights memorial, the confederate “White House,” and the spot where Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat—all within a few blocks of one another.

“The civil rights movement really brought out some of the best and the worst in behavior,” observed Brian King, “but fortunately the south has changed a lot in the last sixty years, and this will be an exciting opportunity to visit historical sites that I have learned about in the classroom.”

As they leave the classroom and traverse diverse states and worlds, their adventures will be linked thematically.  In the world of literature, the students will visit the homes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Eudora Welty, Conrad Aiken, Flannery O’Connery, Truman Capote, Margaret Mitchell, and Harper Lee.  In preparation, they have read famous short stories such as “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by O’Connor, “The Lost Decade” by Fitzgerald, and others, as well as investigating film treatments of the authors’ works and lives.

“Visiting the authors’ homes will be a highlight of the trip for me,” remarked Taylor Parker.  “I read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school, and I have recently read other works by authors who lived in places we will visit.  I’m looking forward to exploring tangible aspects of their lives and work.”

They’ve also explored the music of singers whose stomping grounds they will be traversing: Louis Armstrong and Marcia Ball (Louisiana); Sam Cooke, B.B. King, and Jimmie Rodgers (Mississippi); Otis Redding, R.E.M., Johnny Mercer, and Ray Charles (Georgia); and Eddie Kendricks (from The Temptations), Jimmy Buffett, and Hank Williams (Alabama), offering a diversity in genres and time periods that belies the artists’ southern roots.

“I’m from the south and a fan of almost every music genre,” noted Deanna Tyler, “so I’m pretty excited about this aspect of the trip.  When you have the opportunity to visit sites related to artists as diverse as Satchmo, the B-52s, Hank Williams, and Jimmy Buffett, you’re broadening some horizons.”

Those horizons will also be broadened in the field of military history.  They will learn about World War II at the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans and the Civil War at the Vicksburg Battlefield in Mississippi.

Texas Monument on VIcksburg Battlefield

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the students will also explore art on the trip.  They’ll visit the New Orleans Museum of Fine Arts and the beaches of Biloxi, where they will see the tree sculptures that adorn the seashore ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Junior Fellows on the Beach in Biloxi

“I’m excited about the new things we’ll be seeing,” said Junior Fellows President Annel Gonzalez.  “The sculpture garden at the Museum of Fine Arts in New Orleans has a piece by Jesus Moroles, and I had the chance to see his work at the Wynne Home when I interned there.  Also, I’m intrigued by the way the City of Biloxi turned the trees destroyed by Katrina into something creative and beneficial for the community.”

And, of course, they will learn about politics, which has its own way of alternating between the destructive and the beneficial.  They will visit the site of Huey Long’s assassination in Baton Rouge; tour four state capitols; explore the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library; and spend a day and a half at the Georgia Political Association’s Annual conference in Savannah. There’s also a good chance that the Democrats and Republicans who make up the Junior Fellows will have some interesting political discussions as they embark on their long road trip—hours after polls close in the presidential election.

Louisiana State Capitol

The trip is part of the organization’s mission of promoting public service, professional development, and education. The fellows take one such trip every semester, and they have visited twenty states and Washington, DC in the past five years.  Shortly after completing this trip, the students will begin planning for their trip to see the Presidential Inauguration in Washington, DC.

Unfortunately, not all the members will be participating in the “Southern Culture Trip.”  Half the members will stay behind to tend to classes, volunteer at the opening of the outdoor CHSS classroom at SHSU, assist with the HEARTS Veterans Day Gala, and attend a luncheon with the former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff.

Their week won’t be quite as packed as the students traveling across the south, but both groups of students will be exploring the civic world while also enhancing their education and their community, and those are qualities that enrich all cultures.

The Junior Fellows are a civic organization that participates in more than 100 University and community events every year.  They will share their “Southern Culture” experiences on their blog, which can be accessed at www.politicalsciencejuniorfellows.wordpress.com.



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