On March 18, Cumberland University students and faculty traveled to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis for a luncheon with Trustee Emeritus and former Mayor of Memphis A.C. Wharton, Jr. followed by a tour of the museum.
Earlier in the semester, President of student organization Afro Shaquillra Taylor began planning this educational experience in Memphis with Interim Dean of the Oakley School of Humanities, Education and the Arts Dr. Jenny Mason.
“You never know how much of an impact a museum can have on somebody and how much it can change somebody’s life and make them see the world in a whole different way,” said Taylor.
Dr. Russell Wigginton, President of the National Civil Rights Museum welcomed the students and faculty members saying, “We have designed this museum experience to meet people wherever they are on their civil rights knowledge and journey.”
After Mayor Wharton was introduced, he spoke about how the National Civil Rights Museum is meant to tell the story of how things were and how young students enacted the important changes seen today.
During his speech, Mayor Wharton shared a story about growing up in Wilson County when his father’s factory job closed for the winter season. He remembered how he and his father would gather and sell walnuts for $4.85 per 100 pounds in order to afford Christmas presents for his family.
He described how his father would climb the walnut tree and shake the limbs as he gathered walnuts on the ground.
“When you pick up walnuts, someone else shakes the tree. I once was a picker but now may I a shaker be. As I have gained from others let now gain from me. Somebody has been shaking a lot of trees for you to go to school, but the torch is coming to you. Get up in that tree, shake those walnuts so someone else can pick them up. Because someone else shook the tree for you. It’s up to you now to shake the tree for someone else.”
President of Cumberland University Dr. Paul C. Stumb thanked Mayor Wharton for serving as Trustee Emeritus and for having an endowed family scholarship that supports many students who will go on to “shake the tree” and help others.
Located in the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, the National Civil Rights Museum is steeped in Tennessee history that speaks to the fortitude of African Americans while teaching there are still challenges to overcome.
Cumberland seeks to offer a competitive education that inspires students by pairing experiential learning with a contemporary liberal arts education. This event was a unique opportunity for students to immerse themselves in Tennessee and Black history outside of the classroom. Cumberland students gained inspiration by seeing how other students in history made an impact that rippled throughout the country during the Civil Rights Movement.