Barry McNamara  |   Published January 03, 2017

Mixing hoops and history

Basketball team visits National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis
  • Members of the Monmouth College men’s basketball team pose with a statue of Rosa Parks, which depicts her famous act of civil disobedience in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955.

A late-December road trip to Memphis, Tenn., for the Monmouth College men’s basketball team featured more than games.

It also included a memorable trip to the National Civil Rights Museum.

Housed in the former Lorraine Motel – the site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968 – the museum’s exhibits trace the history of the U.S. civil rights movement from the 17th century to the present.

“The people at the museum told us it would take about an hour-and-a-half to get through,” said Fighting Scots coach Todd Skrivseth. “The guys really took their time and absorbed a lot of information. I had to kind of push them through, and it still took us more than two-and-a-half hours to tour the exhibits.”

Although most of the Monmouth players had studied the civil rights movement in classes, they said there is no substitute for walking in the space where that history occurred.

“I’m happy that I went,” said Will Jones ’18 of Evanston, Ill. “I was able to see things for myself, like the buses they burned” during the protests.

Paul Engo III ’18 of Downers Grove, Ill., had a mix of emotions.

“I just started getting angry seeing the pictures and videos,” he said.

Not long after, Engo realized he wasn’t the only one getting emotional.

“Another thing that stood out to me was an older white lady looking at the display about Dr. King being shot,” he said. “She started tearing up. You could see that it was not only black people who were affected – that white people care about all of this, as well.”

Jamie Cousins ’19 of Blandinsville, Ill., was moved by another civil rights leader – the late Rosa Parks, an African-American woman whose refusal to give up her seat on a city bus to a white passenger led to the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott of 1955.

The museum features a statue of Parks sitting on a bus, depicting her famous act of civil disobedience.

“It made everything so much more real, hearing all their voices and seeing where they were,” he said of the exhibits. “One person can make a big difference. Rosa Parks stepped up for what she believed in.”

Jones learned about another hero – James Meredith, the first black student admitted to the University of Mississippi.

“He had the courage to go there by himself,” Jones said. “They turned him down at least three times. He drove down there three hours just to get turned down,” before finally being admitted in 1962.

Jones also learned about the Freedom Riders, civil rights activists who rode interstate buses into the South in 1961 to protest segregation.

Despite learning “how badly they were beaten up,” Jones said, “they kept going. It gave me a deeper understanding of how dangerous it was to stand up for what you believed in.”

Jones said there are still civil rights causes that need attention.

“There was a picture at the art gallery of slaves, of children working,” he said. “But it wasn’t an old photo. It was from around 2010, of little boys in Africa, carrying bricks on their heads.”

Said Engo: “I’m excited that I went, for sure. It’s one thing to read about it, but I wanted to see it, too. This is where the people walked, this is where Dr. King got shot. It made it real.”

Added Skrivseth: “The museum was interactive and a very enriching experience for all of them, regardless of their background. Just the setting of the museum at the Lorraine Motel had an eerie feeling to it. You could see firsthand where Dr. King was assassinated. You could walk up the street and see where (King’s assassin) James Earl Ray fired the shot. It was a tremendous educational experience for all of us.”

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