Unlocking the Past: Black Student Union’s Memorable Trip into Civil Rights Legacy


Exterior of National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN
By Office of Marketing & Public Relations
On September 13, 2023
The Visit to the National Civil Rights Museum and Stax Museum in Memphis was Funded by Blackburn’s Student Experience Fund and Alumni Gifts

Last spring, eleven students from Blackburn’s Black Student Union (BSU) had the opportunity to visit the National Civil Rights Museum and the Stax Museum in Memphis, Tenn. During their trip, students toured the National Civil Rights Museum in the former Lorraine Motel, the site of  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. The museum provides a comprehensive experience that traces the history and provides context for one of the most iconic moments in American history, the Civil Rights Movement. BSU felt this experience was significant to help students gain an appreciation for civil rights history and apply their knowledge to create a more equitable future.

A nationally acclaimed student organization with the goal of giving African-American and minority students a voice at primarily white institutions, students established a BSU chapter at Blackburn College in 2018. The trip was organized by Dr. Margaret Lawler, Blackburn’s previous Executive Director for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and Blackburn’s BSU leadership, including President Aryanna Harris, Vice President Montreal Thomas ‘23, and Secretary Tatiana Bagley. Each organizing member felt this experience was significant to help students appreciate the legacy of the civil rights movement in the United States and apply their knowledge to create a more equitable future. “This trip was memorable; honestly, one of the best trips I have been on,” said Harris, a senior from Springfield, IL. “Getting reminded of the hard times in history that most people tend to forget is always needed. This trip did just that for many students; everyone had a great learning experience. The sites, the stops, the food was hands down amazing!”

Thomas, who graduated in May with degrees in Math and Political Science, was thrilled for the opportunity to visit a monumental historical site. “I was so grateful for this opportunity to be able to see everything our ancestors were going through, including the legend Martin Luther King, Jr.,” he shared. “One thing I learned that I never knew about is the slave necklace. Every time slaves were getting traded, they added a shell or any small object on it, making it heavier and heavier on their neck.” He offered his genuine appreciation to everyone who helped fund, organize, and support this important educational experience. 

Blackburn BSU students traveled to Memphis and pose in front of the Lorraine Motel at the National Civil Rights Museum.

Blackburn’s Student Experience Fund provided financial support with additional support from alumnus and Blackburn Trustee Paul Tepikian ‘77, who purchased the admission tickets for the National Civil Rights Museum. Students could also visit the Stax Museum, dedicated to American Soul Music. Blackburn’s Student Experience Fund was established by Dr. Lois  DeFleur, a 1958 graduate of the college and former Blackburn trustee. Through the years, DeFleur also has supported Blackburn’s library and faculty development programs. The intent of the Student Experience Fund is to provide financial assistance for innovative programs and learning opportunities for students at Blackburn.

While in Memphis, students were also able to visit the Stax Museum, which showcases American soul music. Stax Records was a hub of social change, producing iconic hits that provided a soundtrack for the Civil Rights Movement, and the museum offers another pathway to understanding the cultural and historical context of the era.

“It was very enlightening and eye-opening in regard to my current and historical culture. Allowing me to step into the ways of my ancestors and receive a grip of their strength, perseverance, and will to never stop fighting for their rights,” senior Kate Baskin shared. “Visiting the Civil Rights Museum was not only an educational trip but a bonding one and helped create a comfortable environment between peers of this group. I feel as though I am now closer to some of them, and I didn’t think I would be.”