Ball State students transform local Freedom Bus into traveling civil rights museum

Topics: College of Communication Information and Media, Immersive Learning

December 2, 2014

Ball State students advance work on local Freedom Bus
An interdisciplinary team of Ball State students is advancing the dreams of local leaders to turn a retired city bus into a mobile museum exploring the history of civil rights in east central Indiana. When completed in January 2016, the Freedom Bus will visit schools and be made available for other events across the region.

An interdisciplinary team of Ball State students is advancing the dreams of local leaders to turn a retired city bus into a mobile museum dedicated to civil rights history in east central Indiana.

Fourteen students in Beth Messner's Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry (VBC) fall seminar have partnered with members of Muncie's Martin Luther King Jr. Dream Team (MLKDT) to research, design, develop and install prototype exhibits in the bus, an educational project in the making for almost 10 years.

"So much of the work and fundraising so far has focused on the need to get the bus back on the road," said Messner, an associate professor of communication studies and MLKDT member. "Now we're ready to turn our attention to what's going to go inside of it. There's a sense of excitement to see these talented students breathing new life into the project."

Help from the experts

The Freedom Bus project began in 2005 when Muncie Indiana Transit System (MITS) provided a retired city bus to MLKDT to transform it into a tool for educational outreach. Money raised by community leaders in the project’s initial stages covered wrapping the bus in an eye-catching graphic and making mechanical repairs. MITS also contributed the labor to install a replacement engine donated by Muncie Transit Supply.

The students said the seminar has been a crash course in the civil rights movement — both at the national and local level. "I knew the basics from high school," said junior psychology major Sam Lawson, "but this class has shown me how much more I had to learn."

The group made field trips to noteworthy museums including the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati and the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. "The staff at the museums gave us so much knowledge to put toward developing the exhibits we're planning," said Andrew Daniels, a junior theatrical studies major. Particularly helpful in shaping students' ideas for the exhibit was input from their primary design consultant, Ball State alumna Charity Counts, who is the associate vice president of exhibits at The Children's Museum in Indianapolis.

Ready to roll in 2016

The Freedom Bus will concentrate on the histories of central Indiana residents active in the civil rights movement. For example, visitors will learn about Muncie resident Vivian Conley, who was involved with the 1950s campaign to desegregate Tuhey Pool, and Anderson sports legend Johnny Wilson, who played a key role in breaking down the color barrier in college basketball. The various exhibits will run the full length of the bus and be divided into topics, including education, employment, public accommodations, local leaders and change resistance.

By semester's end, the prototypes will be ready for a community reveal. Continued work in 2015 will involve testing the exhibits and curriculum and seeking grants for professional fabrication of the prototypes. Messner said the goal is for the bus to make its official debut — with exhibits installed and curriculum materials ready — in early 2016, in time for local celebrations of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday followed by Black History Month. Future site visits will be made to schools, community centers, historical societies and other community events in the region.

Asked what she hopes grade-school students someday take away from the bus, junior history major Meghan Waddle said, "I hope it helps them make a more personal connection to history." Adds junior telecommunications major Casey Marrero, "I want them to learn from it, get to know their community better, and leave feeling inspired."

Sponsors for The Freedom Bus project include VBC, MLKDT, the Muncie Human Rights Commission, the city of Muncie and the university's Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution.


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