On Tuesday evening, the LEAP Center and City Fellows students were given a wonderful tour of the new Huntsville Police Department (HPD), on 2821 FM RD West, by Corporal David Warner.
The tour began as soon as we stepped foot through their double door security to get to the waiting area, where Corporal Warner discussed the history of the HPD, its previous chiefs, and the new things that were incorporated to the new building in comparison to the old building, which was once a bank!
In contrast to the old building, they now have a cool-off room, a gym…
showers, a garage, more security (bullet proof glass and reinforced walls), and overall, much, more space.
All of which allows them to perform their job duties more efficiently, such as conducting meetings, training, and more. In this “backstage” tour, we had the opportunity to see most of the rooms and offices: such as the interrogation room…
…supply room, and new additions such as a school resources officer office, evidence room…
…the chief’s office, narcotics office, and the detective offices. While in the supply room, we got to pass around the two kinds of vests that the officers use, the day-to-day basis one and the one they use before arriving at a “dangerous” crime scene.
The former of which was as light as a feather when compared to the latter of which weighed about ten pounds. Our tour then continued inside the patrol officers’ “office”, where we were able to see the TV that tracks where every officer is located- from the moment they report to an incident scene to the moment they leave the scene.
To put it in perspective, if a police officer was on duty at a high-school football game, we would be able to see the name of the officer, the location of the high-school, and the duration of time they have been there. It also shows how long it has been since any one of them has responded or reported to a scene.
Some of the more popular and favorite parts of the tour were the evidence, supply, and interrogation rooms. We were amazed by how the architect built and designed each factor and detail of the building to where no one can tamper with the evidence lockers or hear anything outside of an interrogation room. Another favorite aspect of the tour was Corporal Warner: he a great tour guide, very knowledgeable, and really illuminated the role and practices of the police.
On behalf of the LEAP Center and the City Fellows, we would like to thank Corporal Warner for taking the time to give us a tour of the new building….
…and even more thankful for everything that Corporal Warner and the rest of the officers do to keep us and the community safe.
It may be summer, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t learning, and for the next two weeks, we plan to learn a lot, while also having some fun. This opportunity comes from the LEAP Center and the Southern Legislative Conference, with the latter hosting their annual conference in July in Nashville, TN. We are expanding that a bit by also visiting Asheville, North Carolina and, Atlanta, GA.
First Flight, Jessica Cuevas
It was early in the morning and the sun had not risen yet, but the LEAP students were all on their way to their closest airport, each departing from their hometown, (Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas) to catch their early flight and embark on their new journey that would begin in Atlanta, Georgia.
Having never stepped foot into an airport or airplane, I was feeling a bit nervous and overwhelmed. Thankfully, there were signs all over the airport directing me, and I also had my Morgan (flying out of DFW) and Yvette (flying out of San Antonio) as resources, and, of course, I could ask airport staff.
I made it through the luggage check, then to security, all the while experiencing a bit of anxiety and feeling a little overwhelmed. Fortunately, I was not selected for additional screening by TSA, and I made my way for some coffee. After purchasing a tall drink at the price of a grande (airports mark up prices, I learned), I settled in to wait on my flight.
As I went through the process of boarding the plane, bit became surreal, and I thought, “I really am doing this all on my own and for the first time.” I listened more intently to the safety protocols and paid attention to the plane (a Boeing B737-900), and sat in wonder during takeoff, the flight, and the landing.
It would be two hours before I stepped foot on the ground
Georgia’s State Capitol, Yvette Mendoza
Although it wasn’t my first time in Atlanta, it was my first time to really put my feet on the ground and explore, and the first place in this exploration was Atlanta’s Capitol grounds.
Part of our education as LEAP Ambassadors includes the basics of architecture, and the Capitol building was a great school room in that sense. The capitol dome is covered in 24K gold leaf, symbolizing the fact that Georgia was the site of the country’s first gold rush–in 1828 in Dahlonega. Apart from this piece of “bling,” the capitol was nicely configured in traditional Greek and Roman architectural features–pediments above entrances, grand columns (corinthian, mostly), and arched windows.
Continuing our walk into the capitol we first caught our eye on the circular, golden plate Great Seal of Georgia that displays three pillars stating their motto “Wisdom, Justice, and Moderation” and the year of the Declaration of Independence, 1776. Then, walking up the staircase we finally entered one of the grand wings of the capitol.
Seeing the overly-sized painted portraits of former Governors dating back to the 1800s was astonishing. Not only did we admire the portraits, but we took a closer look at the numerous chandelier dispersed throughout the interior, which, built in the 1890s, were designed to be used by gas or electric methods.
As is true in most capitols, the rotunda was both literally and figuratively the center of the building. This rotunda was a bit more subdued, but nice nonetheless.
In addition, we were able to stand on the glass flooring, which allows light to spread to multiple floors.
Surrounding us in the rotunda are the portraits of the founding fathers that were placed there because Georgia was a part of the 13 colonies. Walking around seeing more portraits we learned that Jimmy Carter was not only a president but a former Governor of Georgia. Alongside the portraits are offices for the Governor, secretary of state, House of Representatives, and many more.
We enjoyed the large spaces in the capitol, as well as the details amidst the largeness. The doors, for example, have the state seal intricately carved into the knob, and the seats in the House and the Senate include original desks provided to the members.
On the top floor, the Capitol have displays capturing the history of Georgia, as well as facts about the state.
Everyone knows, for example, that the official state fruit is the peach, but did you know its official bird is the brown thrasher?
Wrapping up our tour, we came across a photo opportunity: a podium with the state seal.
For a moment, we had a chance to be Governor and host our own press conferences. It was a fitting end to a fun and educational tour.
High Museum of Art, Yvette Mendoza
As we transitioned from politics and architecture to art, a heavy rainfall began, but it was unable to wash away the LEAP Ambassadors’ excitement to the works on display at the High Museum of Art. At the entrance, we were hit by an optical illusion created by Roy Lichtenstein, called House III. Painted in primary colors and in a triangular shape, the perspective changes as you move alongside it, from convex to concave and back again. This was a great introduction to the fun and engaging art in the building–and the building, by the way, was its own piece of art, designed by Richard Meier.
As a further introduction to the High, we were greeted by a lady wearing a dress clearly inspired by Piet Mondrian, with its grid and primary-color design. All of this, intriguingly, was before we got inside!
Inside, we saw work by Ellsworth Kelly and other major artists, but we beelined it to the Picasso-Calder exhibit. While their art is not typically seen as similar, their grandsons created this exhibit, which emphasized similarities in the artists’ approaches, subjects, and output. The exhibit featured dozens of pieces, including pieces large and small by both artists.
We took turns posing in front of our favorites. Morgan’s, for example, was “The Acrobat,” by Picasso…
…mine was “La Grande Vitesse” by Calder…
…and Jessica’s was the simple “The Bull,” by Picasso.
We didn’t have time to explore all the floors, but we got our fill of Picasso and Calder!
And we did see their American collection, which included many of the “decorative arts,” including works by Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles and Ray Eames, and Isamu Noguchi.
We also saw paintings by John Singer Sargent, Childe Hassam, and Georgia O’Keeffe. Among the modern artists, we were particularly struck by Anish Kapoor’s untitled piece, which had interesting aural and visual effects. This was the most popular piece in the museum.
Our last stop in the museum was the gift shop, where we continued to learn about great artists such as Frida Kahlo and Grant Wood. We bought magnets, flower vases, and postcards to help us remember the beautiful High Museum of Art!
Atlanta Botanical Garden, Morgan Robertson
The SHSU Leap Ambassadors started the afternoon off with a caffeine jumpstart from Caribou Coffee. The coffee house on Peachtree St. offered a wide variety of drinks including drip coffee, cold brew, mochas, lattes, teas, and for non caffeinated options, smoothies, shakes, and pastries. The coffee house served as a good break before heading to the Atlanta Botanical Garden.
The 30-acre garden strategically lays out pathways leading you past countless landscape features and works of art (this would be a good introduction to landscaping architecture, which will learn more about at the Biltmore Estate, landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted). Upon entering the garden, the bright gradient canopy created by Shearn looks as though it is suspended by nothing as it guides your walk on the Kendeda Canopy walk.
The hand-tied streamer-like pieces (more than 79,000 of them) flow with the wind while simultaneously curving with the treeline and the path of the 40 foot tall walkway.
The art and architecture work together in order to create vivid movement through the garden.
One of the major and most memorable works of art employs the use of 18,000 different kinds of flowers to create the Earth Goddess.
Lounging with complete serenity, the Earth Goddess extends a hand pouring water into the pond.
Taking advantage of the scenery, LEAP Ambassadors posed for a picture, some poses emulating the Goddess herself.
The garden is also home to a large collection of Dale Chihuly glass and painted pieces in the botanical garden.
After learning and hearing about his works on past trips, this was our first time seeing a Chihuly in person and our expectations were exceeded. The glass blown into shapes of flowers and different spirals and sprigs creates a mass of individual pieces working together, which fit perfectly within the garden itself.
The botanical garden mission is “to develop and maintain plant collections for the purposes of display, education, conservation, research and enjoyment.” This mission statement is employed in every aspect of the garden, especially through the most obvious way: the plants. From edible gardens, to neon flowers, and trees that make you want to guess their age, the botanical garden is a place to get lost in wonderment and adoration of something that has been around since the beginning of time.
My personal favorite collection of flowers stems from the orchid conservation lab and greenhouse.
This fragile, common house flower dominates in the climate-controlled greenhouse (72 degrees during the day, 52 degrees at night). Orchids growing in every imaginable way from wall hangings, to in the ground the collection brings a new appreciation to the flower.
Keeping with the colorful flower trend, Yvette’s favorite plant was the hydrangeas.
Commenting on how the color did not even look real, Yvette was able to snap some pictures of the beautiful flowers.
The tropical greenhouse gave an impressive depiction of a rainforest complete with the sounds of frogs and birds. Jessica admired the edible garden in which visitors are able to smell herbs such as rosemary, mint, oregano, basil, and marigolds, but have to imagine what the sweet snap peas or the juicy tomatoes would taste like.
We also had an opportunity to see 16 separate installations by Jason Gamrath, a glassmaker from Seattle–he studied art at Dale Chihuly’s school.
His pieces were large, and they complemented both Shearn’s work and the garden itself.
Between Shearn, Gamrath, and Chihuly, we were in good company throughout our walk.
The floral and green experience creates a longing to step back into nature. And even for some LEAP Ambassadors a desire to develop a green thumb.
Jackson Street Bridge, Morgan Robertson
A little while after sunset, the LEAP Ambassadors walked across the Jackson St. bridge for a picturesque view. Most known for its appearance in the tv show The Walking Dead, The Jackson St. bridge plays a distinct role in the post-apocalyptic show. As a single sheriff trots, he passes by hundreds of abandoned cars toward downtown Atlanta on a horse. The shot is taken from Jackson St. Bridge.
The bridge allows for an excellent shot of the skyline of downtown Atlanta, and a nice teaching experience for photography. Experimenting with different shutter speeds, angles and other functions, we were able to capture several images of the skyline.
Other sightseers had the same ideas about the bridge as we did. Upon walking up to the bridge there were several groups snapping always on cameras, phones, and even drones.
Culinary Adventures, Jessica Cuevas
Although we rest our legs while taking a break for meals, we don’t stop exploring. Thus for lunch, we were treated to Mediterranean Food at a small local restaurant La Shish Kabab in Atlanta, Georgia. Having only eaten this cuisine twice previously (both times with LEAP), I tried the Chicken Shwarma, a simple chicken dish with rice served with pita.
Yvette got the Gyro meat platter, which had beef and lamb….
… and Morgan ordered the Beef Kafta.
Many of the flavors are not in our day-to-day diet, so it was an enjoyable experience comparing each other’s choices. It was a nice meal to tide us over for the next couple of hours.
It was past 10:00 PM and we were arriving dangerously close to not finding any open restaurant that we could dine in, with most kitchens being closed for the night early. Thankfully, we eventually found The Corner Tavern. We made our way to the restaurant where we were greeted with rain (in the parking lot) and a friendly staff (in the restaurant). To start, we ordered chips, queso, garden salsa, and fried artichoke hearts. For our entrees, Yvette ordered a burger with French fries…
…Morgan had the tavern club sandwich with Pimento mac and cheese, and I had the buffalo chicken burger with tater tots. This last meal wasn’t particularly adventurous, but by the time we were able to find an open restaurant, we were pleased just to have food before bed.
And thus with full stomachs, following a full day, we began to burn the midnight oil blogging about our day of adventure…
This February, we had our first LEAP LIVE of the semester with Veronica Lockett, whose compelling story was an inspiration to all of us.
One of 13 children, Lockett spent most of her childhood in the foster care system, eventually went to prison, and has since graduated from college, earned an M.A. in Social Work, and recently graduated from law school and passed the bar exam.
Ms. Lockett’s mother suffered from mental health issues, having ended up in foster care and been the victim of a number of assaults while in the system, and found solace in drugs and abusive relationships, and therefore struggled to raise her children.
Lockett recalled for us a tense and scary moment from her childhood. She told us that she once watched her mother’s boyfriend at the time hold her mother in the air and threaten to throw her off of the balcony. She said that she and her siblings slept in the bathroom that night in fear of him.
After years of falling behind in school, living off of food stamps, and being hungry to the point of malnourishment, Lockett entered the foster care system at the age of 9, where she would live in a number of foster care families and group homes.
She explained that she learned about college from one foster care family, and decided she definitely wanted to go to college while with another family. When she started college, she found she struggled to find a place to live.
After transitioning through a number of poor living situations, she ended up in an abusive relationship. While dating this individual, Lockett picked up several charges, and was frequently in trouble with the law. She described an instance when the man held her down in the bathtub and told her he had a gun to her head. There was another time that he choked her until she was unconscious.
A few times, Lockett retaliated, cutting her abuser with a knife and burning him with an iron. Eventually, she had had enough. When she was tired of fighting, she ended up calling the police. Knowing she had a warrant out for her arrest for previous charges, she turned herself in to get away from him. Lockett wound up in prison for two years.
She then described her prison experience, which was tough for us to hear. We learned that the facility she was originally kept in was called the “dog pound,” which was where she was held until the prison assigned her to a specific unit. Once she was placed in a unit, she was placed on the “hoe squad,” where she and other inmates were required to do manual labor.
In spite of the challenges prison presented, including violence from guards and stints in solitary confinement, she was eventually able to get to know her mother, who was moved to her unit, and in the cell next to her.
Lockett told us that they finally reconnected, and she asked her mother all the questions she’d had over the years, about why her drugs and alcohol was more important than her children. Her mother explained that she was trying to cope with the pain of her mental health issues through drugs and alcohol.
After she got out of prison, Lockett went on to finish college, earn her M.A., and would eventually apply to law school at University of North Texas, which was the only school in Texas that would admit her in spite of her criminal record.
She then gave us some advice regarding law school, reminding us that it can definitely be a challenge, and we might not all get the best grades, but that does not mean we should give up. She told us to figure out a system of studying, get to know people who have similar priorities as us, and get as much experience as we can.
Lockett now works at Texas Appleseed, a nonprofit which strives to change unjust laws and policies that prevent Texans from realizing their full potential.
After the LEAP LIVE, a few of us were fortunate to have a one-on-one with Ms. Lockett, where she answered our more specific questions. We want to sincerely thank Ms. Lockett for sharing her time and honesty with us as we learned about her inspiring story of overcoming obstacles.
I think it best to close with a quote from Veronica Lockett which I found very moving:
“I think that the legal profession is all about helping people, it’s just how we choose to help people.
Inauguration Day: The Peaceful Transfer of Power (Kiara Williams)
This inauguration day involved a figurative transfer of power inasmuch as President Trump was not on hand to officially “hand over” the reigns of power. Nonetheless, Joe Biden assumed the Presidency at noon on January 20th, giving an inaugural speech calling on the nation to unify. Biden emphasized the difficulties in our history, particularly regarding equity, but equally emphasized the barriers that have been broken.
As he touched on these topics, President Biden also referred to Vice President, Kamala Harris, highlighting the advances made by women, and to Martin Luther King to highlight progress made in racial equality.
In doing so he indicated how things can change, how the nation has progressed, and how the Vice President of the United States- the first black, South Asian, and female VP in American history- is a living testament to that progression. This momentous event, regardless which side of the aisle one claims, is a statement to women and people of color everywhere that there is power in our voices and we are capable of exceeding our ancestors’ wildest dreams.
In the President’s speech he addresses the societal issues that recently arose: such as the pandemic and its effects on the American people as well…
…as the economy; the attack on the Capitol 14 days prior, and the racial tensions that have plagued this country from its inception. As he addressed these problems, he promised to work to resolve these concerns and advance the nation in his tenure. Biden’s speech continuously emphasized unity and progression of the nation, and with his Vice President, he intends to repair the country for all Americans.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to be there in person, but we made the most of it by watching it in a collective group.
It just wasn’t quite the same as the last time we were there!
Melrose Plantation—Ilexus Williams
After nine days on the road, the LEAP students have come to our final destination: The Melrose Plantation. The Melrose Plantation is located in Natchitoches Parish in north central Louisiana, which is the largest parish in Louisiana. The Melrose Plantation history began in 1742 when Marie Thérèse Coincoin was born a slave into the plantation of Louis Juchereau De St. Denis, who is the founder of the city of Natchitoches. When Marie was approximately 26 years old, St. Denise leased Marie to a French merchant by the name of Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer. Marie and Pierre Metoyer formed a relationship, which resulted in 10 children. Marie never returned to St. Denise. Instead, Pierre Metoyer purchased Marie and their children and granted them their freedom.
After gaining her freedom, Marie began harvesting tobacco, bear grease, and raising cattle. With the help of land grants and the purchasing of slaves, Marie and her sons became known as the most prominent free people of color plantation and slave owners. In 1796, Marie’s son, Louis Metoyer was granted 911 acres of land, with this Melrose Plantation was born.
However, the Metoyer family had financial debts that resulted in losing the prized Melrose Plantation in 1847.
The most notable time period of Melrose Plantation was under the ownership of John Hampton Henry and Cammie Garret Henry. More specifically, Cammie Garret Henry took the Melrose Plantation to new heights by making renovations to buildings on their property and allowing artist and writers to live on her property for free as long as they did their work.
The first structure that we visited on the plantation was the Yucca House, which is a large white home with teal-colored doors and walls made from bousillage, which is a mixture of mud, Spanish moss, and horsehair.
The Yucca House was used as residency for artists and writers while they worked on their books and paintings. The first most significant resident in the Yucca Home was Lyle Saxton, who wrote the book Children of Strangers, which is a novel centered on the lives of the Cain River People of color, Creoles. Additionally, Francis Mignon was a Frenchman, who is well known for his book Plantation Memo: Plantation Life in Louisiana. More importantly, he is the best friend of Clementine Hunter. Clementine Hunter was a self-taught folk artist, whose art depicted life on the plantation.
She created her first piece in 1939 on a lamp shade. Her long-time friend, Francis Mignon, encouraged her to continue painting, which she did until her death in 1988. Because of her persistence in her craft, Clementine Hunter became one of the most two-or-three noteworthy folk artists of the 20th century.
Clementine Hunter’s work is displayed in the most remarkable structure on the plantation, the African House.
This hut-like building is the only one of its kind in the United States. The building is made of African bricks and cypress beams, and its main use was to store tobacco and other lucrative crops. Now the building is home to beautiful murals by Clementine Hunter. The murals cover the walls of the African Houses second story. Although we were not permitted to take photos, we did find some online.
These murals show images of cotton picking, which was an activity that Hunter loved. Also, we recognized that religion was a consistent theme in Clementine Hunter’s work. Through her art, Hunter portrayed church revivals; with people catching the holy spirit, plantation baptisms, and funerals, which showed the importance of religion to the African American community.
Interestingly, Clementine Hunter’s art mostly used women as the subjects in her art because she was not very fond of men. Women were often depicted as hardworking in the field, while the men were depicted enjoying idle tasks such as fishing or drinking.
Next, we viewed the Big House where we saw the living quarters of Cammie Henry and her family. The building also included a library with writings from many of the authors who complete residencies at the Melrose Plantation. Also, the Big House dedicated a room to Clementine Hunter’s art and her Honorary PhD from Northwestern State University.
Lastly, to conclude our tour, we visited Clementine Hunter’s home, where she produced most of her work from 1954-1977. On the front porch, was a sign that read “50 Cents to Look,” which Hunter used to entice people to view and purchase her art.
Hunter never became wealthy from her work, and she never quiet understood the impact of her art. However, she is considered “the most celebrated of all Southern contemporary painters.”
Clementine Hunter’s continuous dedication to her craft is inspiring and is an attribute that LEAP students can use a model and inspiration in their future occupations.
Jessica Cuevas, Ilexus Williams, and Quinn Kobrin shared their reactions to being at the Lorraine Motel on MLK Day, 2021.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we visited the grounds of the Lorraine Motel,
…now a National Civil Rights Museum, where MLK was assassinated.
For me, this was such a surreal experience because I never would have dreamed to be in Memphis, Tennessee, at the exact location where MLK was assassinated, especially on this day.
This is something that we simply learn about in our history classes, but we never stop to think that one day we will get the chance to see the motel and stand in such a historical spot, which is very much still standing after all these years.
I am very thankful for having been extended the opportunity to come on this trip and being able to experience and take in the historical significance of these sites. Being where I was today was a lot to take in; it was so very memorable and bittersweet, so much so that I am still wrapping my head around the fact that I was actually there. I, a girl who had never been outside of Texas before the 12th of January, had traveled through five states, tried new foods, and now, was standing in this place.
It pains me that despite our having come a long way since MLK’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech, some people to this day are still judged by their skin color instead of their character, as we have witnessed in recent times.
Martin Luther King, Jr. is truly a beacon for equality and an idol who has encouraged and motivated others such as Cesar Chavez to fight for fair and decent treatment, and to do so in a peaceful manner.
In 1963, just 58 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King gave his “I have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. “We have come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now!” This statement by Dr. King still rings true for our society today, especially in light of standing up against police brutality and racial inequality.
In this portion of the “I have a Dream” speech, Dr. King is strongly encouraging us not to become accustomed to taking idle or leisure plans of action to achieve social equality in our society. Instead, we must confront issues in our society with tact, focus, and vision. Dr. King set a prime example of the expectations of a servant leader.
King was purpose-driven, devoted to the growth of people, and focused on forming unity. The bar is set high, and I will strive to follow the path of perseverance and courage that Martin Luther King Jr. has paved for so many. It was an honor to give reverence to his life and fight for democracy on a day that is forever dedicated to MLK.
Visiting the spot of MLK’s assassination on the day we celebrate his life was a powerful experience for us all. This is true, I would argue, due both to the awesome nature of King’s contribution to the fight for equality and due to the horrific reality of how he died.
As my peers and classmates have noted, there is a massive difference between reading about a historical figure in class and truly taking the time to understand who that leader was and what they stood for, which is precisely what this trip is all about.
I have not known what it is like to be judged for the color of my skin, to be ostracized simply for my appearance or heritage. For this reason, I have often felt as though I were a tourist in the fight for civil rights and social equality.
However, this trip, like Dr. King’s well-known speech, reminds me that the fight for equality is not solely the fight of the oppressors versus the oppressed. “We cannot walk alone,” said King. “And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.” It takes each and every member of society to stand up and unify against hatred and ignorance. It is not the fight of one people but of all people. For, as George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity.”
Traveling to each of these historic sites in our tour of the south has taught me a great deal, but if nothing else, it has reminded me that standing for justice and equality is not just an option; it is a responsibility. And I know there is nothing more I can do than continue to learn, and battle hatred and ignorance with compassion and education. Equipped with these tools, and the fraternity of all who believe that all people are created equal, we will not turn back; we can only march ahead.
The second day of our LEAP adventures continued to focus on expanding our knowledge of civil rights, and today that began with us visiting the National Battlefield Site of Vicksburg in Mississippi. The siege of Vicksburg was a crucial strategic key point in the Civil War, a part of the Anaconda Plan, which spanned from May 18, 1863 to July 4, 1863. Vicksburg belonged to the Confederates initially, and it was crucial because it is located right next to the Mississippi River, which was very advantageous since it allowed for supplies, goods, and reinforcements to be easily transported. Another strategic advantage of the river is its course; it creates a C-like shape, where a piece of land is surrounded on three of its sides by the river like a peninsula, which allowed whoever had control over Vicksburg to place infantry along the banks and shoot the cannons at any ships or boats from the opposing side.
If the Union could take control of the Vicksburg area, they would have control and access to the river without having to worry about being attacked, and this is what happened. Conversely, for the Confederates, it meant that the Union cut off their supply chain, which left them with three options: fight to regain, retreat, or surrender. After 47 days, General Ulysses S. Grant’s move to strangle them from any resources led General John C. Pemberton to surrender.
While at the battlefield site, we visited two monuments: the Illinois monument and the Texas monument.
The first monument that we stopped to look at was the Illinois monument, which was dedicated in 1906.
It has an ornate Roman-style architecture and somewhat resembles the Roman Pantheon. This monument has 47 steps in its stairway – I counted them as I worked my way up – which symbolic of the 47 days of the battle.
Inside of this building are bronze tablets with the names of 36,000+ Illinois soldiers who fought in this battle.
Another architectural note that I appreciated is the acoustics of the monument, a result of the domelike ceiling, which causes an echo of any noise within the structure.
As a sidebar, it’s worth noting that Ilexus Williams was interviewed by KBTX here.
The second monument was the Texas monument, which was dedicated on November 4, 1961. This monument was in its own unique way very Texan since it was a completely different type of grand as compared to the previous one.
This monument has 11 steps which symbolize and honor the 11 states in the Confederacy. A bronze statue in the foreground displays a Texan soldier, and symbolizes the Texans who helped to seal the breach in the Vicksburg front line.
Both the architecture and the history of this national site have given us a profound new outlook about the impact the Civil War had on paving the way toward Civic/Social equality. Moreover, we discovered that the Texas Monument has an SHSU connection, in that the monument quotes John Thomason, for whom SHSU’s “Thomason Building” and “Thomason Room” in the library are named.
This was a great way to kick off the day, and ranks as one of our favorite parts of the trip thus far!
Sweetie Pies Frying Bird
A day full of travel struck up growing appetites for the LEAP students. For lunch, we traveled to Sweetie Pies Flying Bird to satisfy our hunger with food that is nourishing to the soul: soul food.
We were pleased to see that not only did the restaurant require masks, they also took customers’ temperature at the entry way.
We ordered an assortment of items including fried chicken, neck bone, fried fish, macaroni & cheese, green beans, candied yams, and black-eyed peas.
Favorites of the group were the macaroni & cheese and candied yams.
The staff at Sweetie Pie’s were nice enough to take a photo with us, which we did masked, but still managed to convey the sense of stomachs well satisfied.
And this gave us some needed energy to undertake our tour of the MS State Capitol building.
On yet another of our many stops on our inaugural trip, we visited the Mississippi state capitol which is located in Jackson. The capitol was built in just 28 months from 1901-1903, on the site of the old state penitentiary.
Just like many of the places we have visited on this trip, such as the Starr home and the Vicksburg National Battlefield, the capitol building’s architecture had a Roman and Greek influence, evident in the columns lining the entrance and the magnificent dome above it. The architect, Theodore Link, definitely worked to give the capitol a grand, elegant design appropriate for a state capitol building. Just before entering the building at the south entrance you can’t miss the beautifully crafted stained glass windows, which looked even more breathtaking from the inside when the sun shined through.
After stopping in the rotunda…
…and gazing up at the Italian white and black marble and taking in images of the blindfolded Lady Justice, we took the golden elevator…
…upstairs and made our way to my favorite room in the capitol: The House of Representatives chamber, which was bustling as the legislative session was under way (the bustling activity was just underneath us, and not visible in this photo)…
Just being in that room made me really excited; it was cool to see the room being used and in action. The only other capital I have visited – the Texas capital – was much less active the last time I went.
Sadly, we could not visit the Senate due to COVID-19 restrictions, but I’m sure it would have been just as interesting as the rest of the building, and we did get to see the former Supreme Court….
…and the art in the rotunda, painted as part of the WPA program, and designed to highlight MS history.
On our way out, we were able to pick up some fun souvenirs such as brochures, stickers, and even a pin with the capitol building on it. Finally, to wrap up our self-guided capitol tour we got to take some fun photos of us standing on the capitol steps.
One other thing is worth noting: In November, MS voted to remove the confederate symbol from its state flag. They replaced it with a Magnolia Bloom, fitting for MS, which is the “Magnolia State.” We all agreed it was a much more inviting symbol for the state, and matched the residents’ friendly and charming natures.
Now I can officially say I have been to 2 out of 50 capitol buildings!
Medgar Evers Home
After immersing ourselves in the history of the Mississippi State Capitol, we visited the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument, more commonly known as Medgar Evers Home. The home is located in the Elraine Subdivision, which was the first planned middle-class subdivision for African Americans in Mississippi following World War II. Medgar Evers and his wife purchased the home in 1953 and lived in the home until 1963.
Medgar Evers was an influential Civil Rights Activist in Mississippi. Before embarking on his commitment to fighting for civil rights, Medgar Evers served in the United States Army, during World War II from 1943 to 1945. Evers even took part in the D-Day invasion on the shore of Normandy on June 6, 1944 during his service.
Following his time in the military, Evers began his work in civil rights as the president of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership. In this organization, Evers worked to establish measures to impact civil rights. One of the measures taken included a boycott of all gas stations that denied African Americans access to the stations’ restrooms.
To challenge the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on segregated public schools, Evers partnered with the NAACP and submitted a Law School application to the University of Mississippi as a test case. Evers was denied admission solely because of his race. Evers’ effort to desegregate public schools brought him praise from the NAACP, so in 1954, Evers became the first Mississippi state field secretary of the NAACP. As a state field secretary, Evers organized voter registration, demonstrations, boycotts of businesses that had discriminative policies, and investigated crimes against African Americans.
Due to his activism, Evers was the most prominent civil rights leader in Mississippi. Because of this, Evers and his family experienced countless threats. On June 12, 1963, Medgar Evers was assassinated in his driveway. Although his life was cut short, Medgar Evers’ contribution to the civil rights movement and the fight for equal treatment for all will never be forgotten.
The evening came to a close as we arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana, where we settled in and sampled some creole cuisine from Creole House Restaurant & Oyster Bar, where we got to try alligator po-boys, muffaletta, blackened chicken jambalaya…
…and some delicious caramel bread pudding and pecan cobbler. We have a full day tomorrow, and we cannot wait to explore New Orleans over the next two days!
In a continuation of the LEAP Center’s Facebook one-on-one series, Professor Yawn interviewed Professor Jim Olson about his life during and after his career as a CIA case officer. This having been my first time hearing Mr. Olson speak, I was astounded at how little I knew about the world of counterintelligence.
Olson began the conversation with a definition of counterintelligence. He explained that its purpose is to protect the United States from other nations who may try to steal our secrets and technology. Much to my surprise, he told us that there are approximately 80 countries spying on us right now.
The conversation then turned to Olson’s 31-year career in the Clandestine Service. He was asked about his cover identity, which he could not share in great detail, but he explained that when he was in another nation, he would often have a cover as a U.S. diplomat, so he would have diplomatic immunity if he got into trouble. Sometimes, however, he was in other countries without working as a diplomat, and therefore would be subject to that country’s justice system if he were caught.
He shared that he and his wife – also a case officer within the CIA – never anticipated to come out from their cover identities, because doing so posed a threat to themselves and to their family. However, he was approached by President George H.W. Bush and George Tenet (former Director Central Intelligence) to work at the Bush School of Public Service. Olson was excited for the opportunity, but there is a CIA policy that does not allow officers to go onto college campuses covertly (which was news to me). So, he was forced to give up his cover.
In a similar vein, he was asked about how he and his wife broke the news to their children that they were officers in the CIA, and how they took it. Apparently, when he was stationed in Vienna, terrorists managed to get ahold of his address and sent him a death threat. They decided to tell their oldest son, who was sixteen at the time, and asked him to look after his siblings. As each of their children learned, he said, they took the information in with a sense of pride. He told us that each of his children has now gone on to pursue a career in the service of others.
Next he discussed CIA recruitment methods. We learned that the CIA seeks out a variety of candidates who may be cut out for a career as a case officer. Mainly, they are looking for character; they want recruits who are reliable and trustworthy.
To prepare for a career in the Clandestine Service (one of the most commonly asked questions of the event) Olson said that a bachelor’s degree usually would not be enough, and that students should aim to get a graduate degree of some kind. He suggested learning new languages, taking on roles of leadership, and working in positions that might allow you to travel abroad.
On the subject of character, he spoke briefly about some former CIA officers who betrayed the United States. He spoke vehemently about his former colleague Aldrich “Rick” Ames, who he considers the worst traitor to the country for turning over to the KGB. He explained that Ames had identified Russians who were working for the CIA to the KGB, which led to their imprisonment or execution.
To wrap up the session, we asked Olson what he wanted people to know about the CIA. He explained that CIA case officers are public servants. They do not do what they do for money, power, prestige, or status. They do what they do with honorable intentions.
Despite all of the challenges of COVID-19, the Center for Law, Engagement, and Politics continues to provide engaging and interesting learning opportunities for students. Most recently, students were able to watch a Facebook live interview with President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s granddaughter, Susan Eisenhower, where she discussed her grandfather’s leadership in World War II and as president. Author of the biography How Ike Led, she had much to share about his life and overall legacy.
The interview began with a look at President Eisenhower’s role in D-Day,
liberating Europe from Nazi rule, and his handling of the discovery of concentration camps. It was explained that Eisenhower opted for a broad, slow advance to defeat the Nazi empire, rather than a fast and hasty one. He wanted to bring an end to the regime, and prevent it from rising to power again, and for his approach he was criticized by some who wanted a quicker–but riskier–approach.
In spite of his critics, this slow advance would be an important factor that led to the discovery of concentration camps. When he learned of the atrocities, he took it upon himself to examine every corner of the camps to understand what had happened and how it had come to pass.
She told us that he then issued orders for as many people as possible to document and bear witness to the camps. He brought in journalists, elected officials, and everyone fighting on the front lines.
He then had townspeople from surrounding areas marched through to see what their denial and willful ignorance had led to, and many were made to give burials to the deceased.
As she discussed the importance of Eisenhower’s foresight, and how he was able to anticipate that many people would not believe what had happened in the camps, Susan Eisenhower reminded us that Germany is one of the few countries in the world with zero tolerance of Holocaust denial. LEAP ambassadors learned about Germany’s efforts to reverse the wrongs of the Holocaust and its lingering effects earlier this year.
As the discussion transitioned to Eisenhower’s post-war service, I learned several interesting facts about his commitment to service and duty…
Apparently, on more than one occasion, President Truman offered not to run for reelection after his term, and instead let Eisenhower run for the Democratic nomination. Eisenhower refused each time because he was not in search of power. His granddaughter reminded us that he had wielded more power than most other leaders during World War II, and did not want run for president except when he felt it was his absolutely duty to do so.
A few other aspects of his commitment to duty were his refusal to wear a helmet because they should only be worn by those serving in combat, and his refusal to accept the Congressional Medal of Honor for the same reason – it was meant for those who had shown valor in combat.
The conversation then pivoted to Eisenhower’s leadership style as president of the United States. It was made clear that he did not engage in personal attacks; he was strategic and methodical in his political approach. When dealing with Senator McCarthy and his infamous hearings, Eisenhower did not call him out directly. Instead, he gave speeches about what American democracy should look like, insisted on televising the outrageous investigations, and let the Senate come to censure McCarthy on their own.
President Eisenhower also suffered no nonsense when it came to dealing with issues of race. As LEAP ambassadors learned in January of this year, the governor of Arkansas – Orval Faubus – dragged his feet in complying with the decision of Brown v. Board of Education, and made every effort to not desegregate schools. In response to this, Eisenhower mobilized the Arkansas National Guard and deployed 101st Airborne (paratroopers he had commanded on D-Day) to protect a group of African American students, immortalized in history as the “Little Rock Nine,” as they desegregated Little Rock Central High.
Susan Eisenhower then spoke about how her grandfather was a leader through study and discipline, and was naturally empathetic. He knew what people needed to hear, and tried to be relatable and genuine whenever he could. We saw a picture of him speaking with members of the 101st Airborne Division prior to D-Day and were told that he was discussing fly-fishing techniques with Lt. Wallace Strobel, rather than giving a pep talk about their mission. He wanted to remind them of their humanity.
Finally, President Eisenhower’s legacy of leadership and empathy are embodied eternally in Norman Rockwell’s portraits of him, which at various times depict him both serious and smiling. As his granddaughter explained, the big, toothy grin we saw was his trademark smile, as he was generally in good spirits around his family.
As the meeting came to a close, Susan Eisenhower reminded us that we will “be better as people if we can understand the views of those who come from…different backgrounds,” encouraging us to be ‘like Ike’ when it came to how we view and deal with those who are different than us.
This interview was so interesting and informative, and we were incredibly lucky to hear from Susan Eisenhower. We are grateful for her time and insight, and look forward to the possibility of meeting her in person someday soon.