LINCOLN — The man approaching them wore ripped clothes.
On the first night of the Big Ten’s Big Life Series trip to Alabama two weeks ago, Nebraska track athletes Micaylon Moore and Sadio Fenner encountered him about 200 yards outside their hotel in Montgomery. A man who called himself “Foot.”
“Do you know where you’re standing?” asked Foot, a local who gives tours to visitors for tips.
“This is where they used to trade slaves.”
So began a 48-hour track through time. By visiting museums, hearing guest speakers and walking the grounds where “Bloody Sunday” occurred 57 years earlier, Fenner, Moore, Nebraska forward Derrick Walker and dozens of other Big Ten representatives learned about the Jim Crow era and the civil rights movement.
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Recounting the trip, Moore recited a phrase locals use.
“You don’t visit Selma and Montgomery,” Moore said. “You experience it.”
Moore and Fenner’s experience began with Foot as their guide. With free time before their first Big Life event, they followed Foot to Rosa Parks’ bus stop, the Memorial commemorating the four women who refused the backseat before Parks, and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.
Or, as Foot called it, “The Lynching Museum.”
It wasn’t included on the Big Life itinerary.
Once inside, Moore and Fenner saw about 4,400 memorials to lynching victims, each of which required two forms of documentation.
“Which means that there’s definitely more that we don’t know about,” Moore said.
Fenner described the memorials as “metal plaques” that stated the victim’s name and location of death. The memorial featured soil samples from the lynching sites, too.
When Moore and Fenner first walked in, the plaques met their gaze at eye level. As they progressed through the building, though, they walked down a ramp, and the plaques hung above them.
The Huskers could read why some victims were lynched. Some walked on the wrong side of the street. Others looked at a white person the wrong way.
“Basic things that nobody should ever be killed for,” Moore said.
Visitors laid flowers at specific plaques — family members lost to hate crimes. Fenner recognized some of the victims’ names. Moore found one that shared his.
“It’s crazy,” Moore said. He thought, “Why isn’t this me? Why them? … And somewhere down the line, do I have relation to them?”
The education continued after Moore and Fenner rejoined the Big Life group.
A former Freedom Rider addressed the group Friday night. She recalled seeing Martin Luther King Jr. when she was 7. His assassination fueled her fight for equality.
A Bloody Sunday survivor spoke Saturday morning at the Dexter King Memorial Baptist Church, where King once preached. She described the scene — tear gas, brutal beatings, horses trampling activists — on the Edmund Pettus Bridge decades earlier. And she revealed that she didn’t recall her experience that day until CBS televised a special on the event 50 years later. While reviewing the footage, she watched police kick her in the head — she was 15 at the time.
Later Saturday, 100 Black athletes, coaches and administrators marched across that same bridge in Selma — with a police escort. The demonstrators only made it halfway in 1965.
“To think that we made it farther across that bridge — that is insane to think about,” Moore said. “In that short amount of time (we went from) not being allowed in a certain spot to the police escorting us through that spot. That was meaningful.”
The most meaningful stop on the trip came later that day, when the Big Life group stopped at The Legacy Museum, which traces racial inequality from the early slave days to now. Fenner called that visit “one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced.”
Moore deemed the museum “heavy, hard to take in.”
Walker said he could feel the pain of the people depicted inside. “It was almost like you were there,” Walker said.
The first room put visitors on a slave boat in the Atlantic Ocean. Screens depicted waves crashing around them and explained that, hundreds of years earlier, three-fourths of the boat’s passengers didn’t survive the journey. In another room, slave sculptures laid face first on a sand floor — the ocean floor.
The sculptures depicted men, women and children — sick, abused, elderly — who had been thrown overboard. Fenner, who has African roots, saw familiar hairstyles in the lifeless figures.
“It’s hard not to see a little bit of yourself on every one of these people,” he said.
Fenner felt the same chills walking past the “whites only” signs displayed in another exhibit. And the newspaper articles describing past lynchings. The images of recent police brutality victims reminded visitors that more change is still needed.
And each Husker left Alabama more motivated to enact that change.
Both Moore and Fenner were struck by a quote uttered by one of their speakers: “(The previous generation) put the unity in community,” Moore said, paraphrasing the speaker. “It’s our job — ‘our’ meaning the student athletes that were in that room — to put the human back in humanity.”
Moore, an aspiring doctor, never met a Black male physician growing up, “and I truly believe that it’s hard for young kids to be what they can’t see,” he said. He hopes to serve as an example for future Black kids.
Fenner, a member of the Big Ten’s Anti-Hate and Anti-Racism Coalition, thinks his fellow students need to hear the same stories he heard in Alabama. He’s urging Nebraska to invite a speaker from the Big Life trip to campus.
“I already have my feelings regarding anything racial, but some people who don’t necessarily have my background or my experience won’t understand that,” Fenner said. “Hearing those stories firsthand from somebody that experienced it really makes a difference.”
Walker agreed that “a lot more needs to be done,” and that Montgomery inspired him to do more.
“But what that looks like, I don’t know yet,” he said.
Walker, along with Moore and Fenner, are still processing everything they saw in Alabama. All three said they’ve struggled describing the experience to their peers back home. Walker describes the trip as “surreal” and “breathtaking.”
When pressed further, he searches for the right words. He can’t find them.
“It’s hard to tell you exactly what it was,” Walker said. “I can’t tell you the theme. I can’t tell you every piece of art that was there.
“It’s just something that you’ve got to see.”
Looking back at the last five seasons of Nebraska men’s basketball