Re-created: Civil rights lawyer leads teens on 'Freedom Tour'


Photos courtesy of Cary McGehee

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Attorney Cary McGehee helped organize and was an adult mentor for a group of Metro Detroit high school students, of different races, national origins, religions and socio-economic backgrounds, who took a 10-day "Freedom Tour" bus trip to the Deep South in June.

"This journey was an opportunity for the youth to learn about and better understand civil rights history and its continuing relevance and importance," McGehee says. "This year also marked 60 years since the Montgomery Bus Boycott."

A civil litigator and trial attorney with more than 25 years of experience in employment and civil rights litigation, McGehee is a founding partner of Pitt McGehee Palmer & Rivers in Royal Oak, a major financial backer of the trip.

Other law firms that sponsored students include Butzel Long; Dykema Gossett; Littler Mendelson; Ogletree Deakins; Dickinson Wright; Keinbaum Opperwall Hardy; Law Offices of Deborah Gordon; Deborah LaBelle Law Offices; Jackson Lewis; Lipton Law; Allen Brothers PLLC; and Steingold & Dwyer Law Group.

McGehee is the long-time chair of the trip's organizer, the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights, co-founded in Detroit 36 years ago by her father, Bishop H. Coleman McGehee Jr. Both her parents once marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The tour started in Atlanta, where students spent two days with revered civil rights leader Dr. Bernard Lafayette and learned about the philosophy of non-violence. They also visited the Center for Civil and Human Rights, CNN Center 1, King's former house, and the Ebenezer Baptist Church where King was baptized as a child, and later ordained as a minister, and where his funeral was held after his 1968 assassination.

The group visited Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church where King was pastor from 1954 to 1960 and where he began his quest for civil rights.

Alabama highlights included the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, where the group saw a replica of the public bus on which on December 1, 1955 Parks refused to vacate her seat in the colored section to a white passenger when the white section was full.

In Birmingham, Ala., the group took in the 16th Street Baptist Church, the September 1963 target of a bombing by members of the Ku Klux Klan that killed four girls and injured 22 others. The church also was the site of the Children's Crusade, a march by hundreds of school students in May 1963, eventually stopped by police using fire hoses and police dogs.

The bus stopped at the Viola Liuzzo Memorial alongside a highway in Alabama, where a civil rights worker from Detroit was shot and killed by Ku Klux Klan members; and walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma where in 1965 marchers were attacked and stopped, before resuming their walk two weeks later and arriving on March 25, 1965, at the Alabama State Capitol another stop on the tour.

At the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama, students met with SPLC's co-founder and chief trial counsel and civil rights icon, Morris Dees. Other Alabama stops included the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Voting Rights Museum, Slavery Museum, Freedom House, Kelly Ingham Park, Eddie Kendrick Memorial Park, and Neighborhood Walk.

In Meridian, Miss., the group visited the gravesite of civil rights activist James Earl "J.E." Chaney, who was murdered along with Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner from New York City during "Freedom Summer" by members of the Ku Klux Klan near Philadelphia, Miss., and visited Meridian's First Union Baptist Church where Chaney's funeral took place in 1964.

Other highlights in Mississippi were the Choctaw Native-American Reserve, Medger Evers House, Tougaloo College, and International Museum of Muslim Cultures.

In Tennessee, the group visited the Stax Museum in Memphis, National Civil Rights Museum, W.C. Handy Memphis Home Museum, historic black churches and businesses, civil rights historical sights, a slave market district, and Alex Haley Museum & Interpretive Center; and in Kentucky, visited Berea College, the first interracial college in the south.

"The trip was an eye opening and inspirational journey for the students, many of whom were unfamiliar with the sacrifices that were made in the fight for equal rights for African Americans and how young people were an instrumental part of the movement and played leadership roles," McGehee says.

Published: Fri, Sep 09, 2016