Ball State Students Work to Transform City Bus into Traveling Civil Rights Museum

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MUNCIE, Indiana — A team of Ball State University students is advancing the dreams of local leaders to turn a retired Muncie city bus into a mobile museum exploring the history of civil rights in east central Indiana. When completed in early 2016, the Freedom Bus will be ready to roll out for local Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations.

The bus has been an educational project 10 years in the making. “So much of the work and fundraising so far has focused on getting the bus back out on the road,” said Beth Messner, an associate professor of Communications at Ball State and member of Muncie’s non-profit Martin Luther King Dream Team.

Vivian Conley
Vivian Conley

This fall, Messner and 14 students participating in an immersive learning course turned their attention to the inside of the bus, creating prototypes for exhibits showcasing the histories of central Indiana residents active in the civil rights movement. For example, visitors will learn about Muncie resident Vivian Conley, involved with the 1950s campaign to desegregate the city’s public pool, and Anderson sports legend Johnny Wilson, who played a key role in breaking down the color barrier in college basketball.

Jumpin' Johnny Wilson
Jumpin’ Johnny Wilson

This year, work continues on the bus as Ball State students test out a curriculum for its exhibits and Messner seeks grant funding for professional fabrication of the prototypes inside.

Asked what she hopes grade-school students who someday tour it will 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 Ball State, Muncie’s Martin Luther King Dream Team, the Muncie Human Rights Commission, Muncie Indiana Transit System (MITS), the city of Muncie, and the university’s Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution.

article by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (follow @lakinhutcherson)

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