Honors 2020 Alabama Civil Rights Trip: Kayla J. Hayman ’23 Explores Her Family’s Civil Rights History

Honors 2020 Alabama Civil Rights Trip: Kayla J. Hayman ’23 Explores Her Family’s Civil Rights History

Honors 2020 Alabama Civil Rights Trip: Kayla J. Hayman ’23 Explores Her Family’s Civil Rights History

The Honors 2020 Alabama Civil Rights Trip had a tremendous impact on everyone involved with the trip. Hearing stories told by people who marched in Selma—lockstep with leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and current Congressman John Lewis—was both sobering and inspiring. For some of the students, it was a new perspective they’d never heard before, and they connected the experience to struggles their families faced in other countries and with other cultures. But for one student, Kayla Hayman ’23, a Forensic Psychology major from Levittown, New York, the story hit much closer to home. One of Hayman’s grandmothers marched in Selma, and her other grandmother witnessed racial terrorism at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan. To unpack her thoughts, and to explore her own family history, Hayman wrote an essay about her experience, including an interview with her grandmother.  

Her Essay

Alabama Trip: Unraveling the KKK’s Influence in the South

When she was only 16 years old, my grandmother, Dorcas Hayman, participated in the Selma to Montgomery march with civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King, and current Congressman John Lewis. Coming from Barbados as a child, and living in New York, going down South was a brave decision for my grandmother, but it was one she felt compelled to do for herself, her community, and all the future generations of African-American people. Right now, I’m only a few years older than she was when she marched in Alabama, and I continue to be in awe of her bravery. Thinking about her commitment to equality makes me wonder about what I am doing to advance the fight for civil rights today. By visiting Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, I know that I’m continuing my grandmother’s legacy. I’m embarking on a journey to help ensure the rights of African-Americans, and all people, just like my grandmother and many other members of my family have done before me. 

Hayman viewing a recreated jail cell at the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma, Alabama
Hayman viewing a recreated jail cell at the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma, Alabama

“When she was only 16 years old, my grandmother, Dorcas Hayman, participated in the Selma to Montgomery march with civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King, and current Congressman John Lewis.” —Kayla Hayman

Walking through the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma, Alabama, it was inspiring to see the hard work that civil rights activists put into the movement. There were many photos, quotes, and exhibits that illustrated the importance of the movement. However, there was one aspect of the museum that took me by surprise. As I turned a corner, there was a chilling statue replica of a Ku Klux Klan member. Even though it wasn’t real, my heart honestly skipped a beat. Seeing something so realistic and horrifying made me immediately want to write about the vicious, destructive impact the Klan had on African-Americans’ lives. I had heard about the KKK when we learned about white supremacy in grade school, but I never knew the true depth of the KKK’s hatred and terrifying crimes. Going through the museum allowed me to gain deeper knowledge about their disgusting actions during, and before, the movement. I read that in the 1920s, membership within the Klan was over 4 million people worldwide. It sickens me that such a great number of people carried this intense hatred for blacks and other minorities for no other reason than their race. I realized that I was extremely uneducated about the KKK.

At the Civil Rights Memorial Center, I read stories that explained how appallingly the KKK treated black people, and I marveled at the tributes commemorating the people—young, old, black, and white—that died due to pure racist and hateful reasons. Taking in all of their names, brought tears to my eyes. It made me wonder how scared my ancestors—and even my grandparents—were every single day of their lives. In order to get some real firsthand knowledge, I decided to interview my grandmother on my mother’s side, Iris Smith, whose family is from North Carolina. She was born in 1952. Below is part of the interview where we talk about her feelings concerning the white supremacists and their horrifying influence.

Kayla: So, you lived in the South before? When?

Iris: Well I was born in the South in 1952. I moved up to New York when I was eight in 1960, but the rest of our family has been living there.

Kayla: Where?

Iris: Rich Square, North Carolina. 

Kayla: Okay, so I know you were young at the time, but do you remember the segregation rules down South?

Iris: I was young but I knew we had prejudice. We had to address white people as Mr. and Mrs. Schools were segregated; I went to an all-black school. We knew our place. You knew that you had to go through the back of the house for doctor visits. Going to the store and going to the movie theater, you had to enter through the back door. Going to Woolworths you could not sit at the counter and eat your food. You could get it, but you couldn’t sit at the counter to eat your ice cream.

Kayla: That’s insane to think about. I can’t even imagine that happening today. For my journal, I’m writing about white supremacists and their influence during the civil rights movement. Do you have any stories of great nana or anyone in the family that had to face any difficulties concerning the KKK or any group like that?

Iris: I did not experience personal attacks, but my mom always told me to come home before dark. They’d always say, “Be careful out there now.” We always had to go out of the house saying, “Be careful.” You know we had to look out for the Klan. They could be your doctor, your lawyers, your judge, your neighbors. Some white boys would go around in a car, take you, kidnap you, and you’d never be seen again. The family knew what was—and what could be—out there. It was a small town. As far as experiencing prejudice, white people would spit at you, even the little white kids would spit at you. They’d threaten to burn your house down or throw crosses on your yard. I did not experience this, but this is what they would do to the black families.

Kayla: Wow. This is a lot of information that I wasn't aware of. Thank you, Nana.

Having this conversation with my grandmother was a great experience. With the information that I learned in Alabama, and hearing that this was going on so close to my family, was an eerie feeling. It’s always one thing to learn about something, but when it’s connected to your family, and essentially your history, it truly has an effect on you. Being a black woman, learning about how white people and the KKK treated my people solely because of the color of our skin is scary to think about. However, it is important to gain further knowledge in order to make sure history isn’t repeated. To quote my grandma Iris, “We have grown, but we are still not where we need to be.

Read more about the Honors 2020 Alabama Civil Rights Trip: