By Carla Orendorff
Today we visited the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro, the former site of a Woolworth’s department store where four students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University demonstrated in a sit-in that changed the course of the Civil Rights Movement. As I walked through the halls of the museum, I was met by images of lynching, cross burnings, and the brutalized and unrecognizable face of Emmett Till. These are images that I know well from history classes, but seeing them this time was different. Standing with the original Freedom Riders and student riders, I could feel the weight of sadness in the room. We were not simply looking at historical photographs, we were collectively trying to remember.
History can erase people, actions, and movements. History can also impose master narratives on the people who lived and participated in its creation. But memory gives us the opportunity to reclaim wisdom and reconstruct its meaning. It is both a retelling and an invention of the past.
As I occupied the room where the original Greensboro Four demonstrated, I wondered quietly, what could happen if we re-imagined these sites? How do we transform these sites of memory into sites of action and protest?
I had the opportunity to sit with Joan Muholland, one of the original Freedom Riders. We talked about postcards, our love of family photo albums, and the strange desire to always keep moving, traveling. As I listened to her stories from a life-long commitment to activism, the weight in my heart filled with joy. Our time on the bus is not just about retracing history, but recreating a shared, inter-generational memory.