Traverse City Record-Eagle

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November 10, 2013

Leelanau students travel the south, history of civil rights

TRAVERSE CITY — Olivia Kinker found herself a long way from Northport this summer, standing in a kitchen where nearly 60 years ago one of the most influential figures in American history found the strength to press on.

Kinker, a senior at Northport Public School, and about 35 other high school students from Leelanau County and Detroit toured Martin Luther King Jr.'s home in Montgomery, Ala., the same home bombed in 1956 during the Montgomery Bus Boycott while King's wife and daughter were inside.

"We went into the kitchen and we're all standing in this room, and our guide was telling us about how (King) sat at that table and built up the courage to continue even though it was dangerous for him and his family," Kinker said. "That brought out a few tears."

Kinker and five other Leelanau County students boarded a bus in June along with about 30 high school students from Detroit as part of the Michigan Coalition of Human Rights' “2013 Freedom Tour.”

The tour honored civil rights activists who traversed the south in the 1960s to challenge social injustice and inequality. Kinker and her Leelanau classmates will share stories about the experience and what they learned during a public event at the Leelanau County Government Center on Wednesday.

Local attorney Dean Robb, 90, coordinated the trip's Leelanau County contingent. Robb was in his 30s when he helped organize civil rights lawyers, mostly from Detroit, who battled inequality in the south in the 1960s.

Robb heard about the Freedom Tour last winter and wanted to integrate the trip by including white students from Leelanau County with the mostly black and Hispanic students from Detroit.

The tour visited numerous historically significant locations from Atlanta's King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, to Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church, where an infamous 1963 bombing killed four black girls, to a desolate wooded area outside Philadelphia, Miss. where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964.

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