By Esther Kim
Was it naïve to think things would have remained superficial on a trip like this? That we could have treaded water for ten days?
In a sleepy haze, on an early morning that has become part of an already blurred memory of this bus ride, I texted those questions to myself.
While my fellow riders spoke to “knowing history to understand our future” in their introduction videos, I shared my interest in what the group dynamic of the students would be while on this revisiting of history.
The lines drawn across identities and communities and the un/conscious reasons why we did or didn’t engage with one another revealed so much about the state of race, gender, class, sexuality, awareness, politics, civic engagement and activism within this generation.
At times I think we collectively recognized the depth and weight of what we were witnessing— in Rock Hill, in Anniston, in New Orleans. You couldn’t escape it if you had wanted to. But how do we connect what we learned about the original Freedom Riders to how we live now? The Freedom Riders worked to challenge the social segregation of the South, and yet the self-segregation on our bus went acknowledged and unaddressed. But is the answer to desegregate, especially in the case of self-segregation? Are these actions merely reflective of the need for community based on more than circumstance?
This experience has challenged my idea of community. It would have been naïve to assume that after ten days on a bus we would magically become a collective. Or maybe this is exactly what a community looks like. Maybe my fellow riders will vehemently disagree with my thoughts but that doesn’t change our shared experience. I reflect on the emotion behind the charged words of Jerome Smith, a leader from the New Orleans Freedom Rides group. His frustration came from his perception of how the New Orleans group was not adequately represented in the recent Freedom Rider recognition. The fact that this history of the Freedom Rides cannot be contained within a two-hour documentary, a 700-page book, or a ten-day bus ride reminds us that we cannot be satisfied with what we are given, and that the movement for truth and justice is never ending; whether or not we can do this as a community, only time will tell.