By Charles Reed Jr.
To begin our trip through the Deep South, the 2011 Student Freedom Ride embarked on a journey to Fredericksburg, Virginia—the first stop of the original 1961 Freedom Riders. As the bus was driving down Route 1, the exact path the original Riders took, it truly hit me about how much courage the Freedom Riders had. I experienced indescribable, overwhelming feelings when I thought about what it must have been like to travel that same route 50 years ago. It is unimaginable the thoughts that must have been running through their minds. The tenacity and motivation of the Freedom Riders is something that I greatly admire.
Not only was this part of the Ride significant because it marked my first journey through the Deep South, but it was also the first time I would revisit my alma mater of just one day (I was officially a graduate of the University of Mary Washington as of May 7). It was an unforgettable experience for me to receive my diploma today in front of my family, friends, and 39 of my new friends on this Ride.
UMW has played an important role in my life, but it was also an aspect of the Freedom Rides being that it was James Farmer’s home for 13 years where he taught as a Distinguished Professor of History and American Studies. The lessons I learned about Farmer regarding the way he used the philosophy of nonviolence to galvanize an army of nonviolent activists that fought against the Jim Crow laws of the South is knowledge that I deeply appreciate.
This brings me back to the first day of our 2011 Student Freedom Ride in which we had the opportunity to learn from a true American heroine, Diane Nash. Just like many of the original Freedom Riders I have met, she encouraged us in our workshop to pursue our dreams, discover our passions, and stand up for what we believe in.
These beginning moments of this historic journey have me feeling an enormous sense of honor. As an advocate for social justice and civil rights, I understand that my job of educating people about social issues such as the Freedom Rides is not over with, but instead it has just begun. It is my duty to encourage and help people become more socially aware. I have the power to affect many lives, and I want to assure myself that I do just that.