For 23 years, immediately following the dawn of the New Year, Drs. Charlie Collyer and Pam Zappardino have helped direct an annual Historical and Educational Civil Rights Tour of the Deep South to visit people and sites that played critical parts in the American Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and ‘60s.
The tour is coordinated by Charles L. Alphin Sr. of DDK Tours; and led by Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Jr., distinguished senior scholar-in-residence, Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta.
Also participating is The Ira and Mary Zepp Center for Nonviolence and Peace Education, a program of Common Ground on the Hill — a nonprofit organization that brings different people together through traditional arts and music at McDaniel College,
According to SourceWatch, an investigative publication of The Center for Media and Democracy, DDK Tours was established in 1985 by Alphin “when he was a sergeant in the St. Louis Police Department. … [He later] started organizing Educational and Training tours to The King Center, Atlanta GA.” Since 1995, DDK has expanded its array of educational pilgrimages beyond the United States to South Africa and Ghana in Africa.
Lafayette was a leader of the Nashville student movement in 1960, an organizer of the Voting Rights movement in 1965, national coordinator of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, and a member of Martin Luther King Jr.'s staff. Lafayette provides personal insight during the tour and shows participants how the struggle evolved.
The Zepp Center is named for two longtime Westminster teachers, the Rev. Dr. Ira Zepp and Mary Zepp who had a long association with McDaniel College and with the promotion of justice by peaceful means. Today, the Zepp Center is directed and staffed by Zappardino and Collyer.
When I was younger, I attended Westminster United Methodist Church with Ira and Mary Zepp and Dr. Lowell Ensor. On March 23, 1945 a local Westminster newspaper article reported that Ensor, “pastor of the Methodist Church at Westminster — Urges Repeal of Jim Crow Law.” By 1945 institutional racism in Maryland was a hot topic.
Decades of work were to follow in search for civil rights in Carroll County and Maryland. In part, one of the drivers in Carroll happened when the Baltimore Colts began summer practice in Westminster at Westminster Maryland College in the 1950s. I was a paperboy who sold the Baltimore Sun to the Baltimore Colts and folks attending the football practices in the early 1960s.
According to historian Dr. James E. Lightner, Ensor later assumed “the office of [Western Maryland College — now McDaniel] president on July 1, 1947.” According to a history of the college, Fearless and Bold,” by Lightner, Ensor served until June 30, 1972. He died in 1975.
In full disclosure, I participated in several civil rights initiatives in Greensboro, Raleigh, Burlington, Winston Salem — the East Winston Community Organization, and Pembroke County — and points in between, in North Caroline from 1971-1973 while attending Elon College. And in recent years I have served as the secretary of the local Carroll County branch of the NAACP.
Elon was affiliated with the United Church of Christ and was in the throes of integrating at the time and helped support the “Wilmington 10.” I visited Wilmington, North Carolina once in that time period right after the height of the civil unrest and violence in which several folks were killed. I did not have a good time and I have never been back.
I took a number of classes at taught by Drs. Zepp, Collyer, and Zappardino, but never went on the annual January Civil Rights tour until last year. I have no romanticized or sanitized memories of my minor forays in civil rights activism in the early 1970s in North Carolina and I had no interest in revisiting any of it.
However, last January I ran out of excuses and took the tour with my wife, Caroline. The tour took place from Jan. 4-7, 2018 and took us first to Atlanta to The King Center, the Kings’ crypt; King’s birth home; and the Historical Ebenezer Baptist Church. Next we traveled to Philadelphia, Mississippi and visited where three Civil Rights workers — Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman — were killed were during the “Freedom Summer, 1964.”
The next day in Jackson, Mississippi, we visited the Medgar Evers Home Museum. We visited where Evers was shot to death in the driveway of his home June 12, 1963. From there we went to Memphis, Tennessee and visited the National Civil Rights Museum located in the Lorraine Motel where King was assassinated.