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Team Memphis

New York college students visit Memphis to learn history hands-on.

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When a New York college professor needed an example for a newly created course in protest and public opinion, he looked to Memphis.

Dale Hartnett of the College at Brockport created the class after visiting Memphis last year. Last week, a group of his students, calling themselves "Team Memphis," traveled to the Bluff City to learn more about Memphis' civil rights history and to help restore one of its oldest cemeteries.

"Focusing on the civil rights movement made a lot of sense for the course," Hartnett said. "What we deal with is the rhetoric of protest: What kinds of persuasive means do people use to express themselves?"

The students toured the National Civil Rights Museum, visited the Mason Temple, and had a question-and-answer session with the Rev. James Netters of Mount Vernon Baptist Church.

Hartnett said the class was intent on having a dynamic schedule, and they were pleased when opportunities arose that they couldn't have planned for in advance.

"It's exactly what you hope for and seldom find," Hartnett said. "As we go along, more and more, [the students are] finding things that we should deal with in the classroom."

Much inspiration was drawn from the group's experiences at the Zion Cemetery, a South Memphis cemetery created by former slaves in 1876. Located on South Parkway, Zion is the oldest African-American cemetery in Memphis.

The cemetery's 17 acres, where more than 22,000 people are buried, have fallen into disrepair. In 1990, the Zion Cemetery Project was formed to restore the cemetery, and it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Team Memphis spent part of their time last week volunteering with the Zion Cemetery Project to clean up the site.

While working, the students stumbled upon a few overturned gravestones. After some research, they determined that one of those graves belonged to the Rev. Morris Henderson, one of the founders of the cemetery and historic Beale Street Baptist Church.

The students are responding to their experiences through oral reports, papers, and even a mini-documentary. Hartnett said he was delighted at the welcome they received from Memphians. Mount Vernon Baptist Church provided transportation for the group, and Russ Wigginton, an historian and vice-president for college relations at Rhodes College, spoke to the group and helped coordinate their service efforts.

"Service projects have beginnings, middles, and ends," Hartnett said. "We wanted to demonstrate to our students people who are spending their lives in service, and it's been very successful."

Students' experiences are posted at

brockport.edu/serve/memphis.

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