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Archive for the ‘ Leaders and Speakers ’ Category

Day 7: Sarah Cheshire

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

The Singletons in Jackson

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Day 6: Seigenthaler’s Bedtime Story

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

Day 5: Dispatch from Ray Arsenault

Friday, May 13th, 2011

Historian Ray Arsenault, author of Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice, writes from the bus of the 2011 Student Freedom Ride.

Day 5–May 12: Anniston, AL, to Nashville, TN

Our fifth day on the road started with the dedication of two murals in Anniston, at the old Greyhound and Trailways stations. I worked with the local committee on the text, and I was pleased with the results. In the past, there was nothing to signify that anything historic had happened at these sites. The turnout of both blacks and whites was gratifying and perhaps a sign that Anniston has begun the healing process of confonting its dark past. The students seemed intrigued by the whole scene, including the media blitz. We then boarded the bus and traveled six miles to the site of the bus burning; we talked with the only local resident who was there in 1961 and with the designer of a proposed Freedom Rider park that will be built on the site, which now boasts only a small historic marker. I have mixed feelings about the park, but perhaps the plan will be refined to a less Disneyesque form. It was quite a scene at the site, but we eventually pulled ourselves away for the long drive to Nashville.

Our first stop in Nashville was the civil rights room of the public library, the holder of one of the nation’s great civil rights collections. Rip Patton gave a moving account of his life as a Nashville student activist. We then traveled across town to the John Seigenthaler First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, where John Seigenthaler talked with the students for a spellbinding hour. He focused on his experiences with the Kennedy brothers and his sense of the evolution of their civil rights consciousness. As always, he was captivating and gracious, and full of truth-telling wit. We gave the students the night off to experience the music scene in Nashville, while I and the Freedom Riders participated in a Q and A session following a screening of the PBS film. The theater was packed, and the response was very enthusiastic. It was great to see this in Nashville, a hallowed site essential to the Freedom Rider saga and the wider freedom struggle. On to Fisk this morning before journeying south to Birmingham and “sweet home Alabama.”

Day 3: Dispatch from Ray Arsenault

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Historian Ray Arsenault, author of Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice, writes from the bus of the 2011 Student Freedom Ride.

Day 3–May 10: Charlotte, NC, to Augusta, GA

We started the day with a breakfast meeting at a black Pentecostal church in West Charlotte. The students had the chance to sit with local civil rights activists such as former Freedom Rider Charles Jones, who gave another inspirational “blessing” that included rousing freedom songs. The next stop, a few blocks away, was West Charlotte High School, an important site in the school desegregation saga in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Since our freedom bus was temporarily out of commission (the AC was being fixed), we drove up in a red, doubled-decker, London-style “party bus.” Some of the kids rushed out to greet us, perplexing the school security guards, who weren’t expecting a freedom ride on their doorstep. West Charlotte High, once a model of racial integration and educational improvement, has fallen on hard times, the victim of resegregation and neglect since the mid-1990s.

On to Rock Hill, SC, the birthplace of “jail-no bail” in February 1961 and the home of the courageous Friendship Nine, arrested in 1961. Five of the nine joined us for an emotional lunch at a recently refurbished McCrory’s, site of the famous 1961 sit-in. Andrea Barnett, a black special-ed teacher from Charlotte, who recently completed a 3,000 mile Freedom Ride (designed to instill self-confidence in her students) on her motorcycle, accompanied by her white boyfriend, from DC to New Orleans and back to Charlotte, was on hand to sing a beautiful and moving folk song (that she wrote) dedicated to the Freedom Riders. Also on hand was a Catholic priest, Father Boone, who has been in Rock Hill for 52 years, much of the time a lone local white voice preaching racial tolerance and justice. It was quite a scene. As we drove off across South Carolina to Augusta, GA, there were more than a few tear-stained faces on the (mercifully) retooled, air-cooled freedom bus. On to Atlanta and Anniston this morning.

Reverend Charles Jones

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Reverend Reginald Green

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Days 1 & 2: Dispatch from Ray Arsenault

Monday, May 9th, 2011

Historian Ray Arsenault, author of Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice, writes from the bus of the 2011 Student Freedom Ride.

Day 1-May 8: Washington to Lynchburg,VA

Glorious first day. Student riders are a marvel–bright and engaged. Began with group photo in front of old Greyhound station in DC, where the 1961 Freedom Ride originated. On to Fredericksburg and a warm welcome at the University of Mary Washington, where James Farmer spent his last 14 years. One of the student riders, Charles Reed is a UMW student. Second stop at Virginia Union in Richmond, where the 1961 Riders spent their first night. Greeted by VU Freedom Rider Reginald Green, charming man who as a young man sang doo-wop with his good friend Marvin Gaye. Third stop in Petersburg, where former Freedom Rider Dion Diamond and Petersburg native led a walking tour of a town suffering from urban blight; drove by Bethany Baptist, where the 1961 Riders held their first mass meeting. On to Farmville and the Robert Russa Moton Museum, formerly Moton High School, the site of the famous 1951 black student strike led by Barbara Johns; our student riders were spellbound by a panel discussion featuring 2 of the students involved in the 1951 strike and later in the struggle against Massive Resistance in Farmville and Prince Edward County, where white supremacist leaders closed the public schools from 1959 to 1964. On to Lynchburg, where the 1961 Freedom Riders spent their third night on the road and where we ended a long but fascinating first day. Heade for Danville, Greensboro, High Point, and Charlotte this morning. Buses are a rollin’!!!

Day 2-May 9: Lynchburg, VA, to Charlotte, NC

The second day of the Student Freedom Ride was full of surprises. We left Lynchburg early in the morning bound for Charlotte. We passed through Danville, once a major site of civil rights protests, where the 1961 Freedom Riders encountered their first opposition and experienced their first small victory–convincing a white station manager to relent and let three white Riders eat a “colored only” lunch counter.

Our first stop was in Greensboro, where we toured the new International Civil Rights museum, located in the famous Woolworth’s–site of the February 1, 1960 sit-in. This was my first visit to the museum, even though I was one of the historical consultants involved in planning the museum. We met the first black mayor of Greensboro, and I did a TV interview with the local PBS affiliate. The kids seemed to be deeply moved by the visit.

On to High Point, the scene of the first high school student sit-in in 1960 and the adopted home of Ben Cox, the original CORE Freedom Rider who organized the sit-in on February 11, 1960. Ben is a dear friend and the first Freedom Rider that I interviewed for my book in 2001. He is a local hero in High Point, where they now have a beautiful sculpted plaque marking the site of the Woolworth’s where the sit-in took place. Ben now lives in Jackson, TN, and is in very poor health, but his spirit and legacy lives on in High Point. Two of his sit-in kids from 1960–including a city councilwoman–met us at the Woolwoerth’s site and delivered a moving tribute to Ben. Very emotional moment for me and the student riders.

On to Charlotte, the site of the first arrest in 1961–the shoe-in by Joe Perkins at the Charlotte station that put him in jail for two nights. We had dinner at the Levine New South museum, then went across the street to the historic and beautiful First United Presbyterian Church, where a capacity crowd showed up to view a long clip from the American Experience film and to listen to a Freedom Riders panel discussion that I moderated. The highlight was a round of freedom songs led by Freedom Riders Rip Patton and Charles Jones, a Charlotte native who accompained William Sloane Coffin on the May 24, 1961 Freedom Ride to Montgomery. Meanwhile, the student riders were downstairs for a 2-hour intensive discussion of race in America, facilitated by William Smith, a Race Amity counselor and one of the first African Americans to play division I football at a predominantly white Southern school (Wake Forest) in the early 1960s. An added highlight for me–a reunion with one of my favorite and most talented students from the early 1980s–Shella Hollowell, whom I hadn’t seen in 25 years. She now lives near Charlotte and is a passionate student of civil rights and Southern history.

The only glitch in the day–the air conditioner on our freedom bus broke down between Greensboro and Charlotte, adding authenticity and a lot of sweat to our journey to the Deep South. This morning we are off to Rock Hill and Augusta, GA, where we will try to keep it cool!

Freedom Rider Bernard Lafayette Sings

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Stanley Nelson and Rip Patton on Talk of the Nation

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Tune in at 3pm EST to listen to Freedom Riders director Stanley Nelson and Freedom Rider Rip Patton as they are featured on NPR’s Talk of the Nation.

The Cypress Times

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

Freedom Rider
By Ray Powell

Next month marks the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides. My father will travel to Chicago to take part in a taping for the May 4th edition of the Oprah Show, in which she will honor those who were “publicly exposed to insult and persecution” and who “stood side by side with those who were so treated.” Happy anniversary, Presbyter … and thank you Dad. Read article…

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

50 Years Later, Freedom Rides Still Resonate
By Angela Tuck

It’s been 50 years now, but there are times when Charles Person still finds it hard to talk about the summer of 1961 without his voice breaking. The 68-year-old Atlanta man recalls the unfathomable hatred. The beatings. The constant reminders that blacks should stay in their place.

That summer, Person was a pioneer in what would come to be known as the Freedom Rides, an organized effort initiated by the Congress of Racial Equality to challenge the South’s segregation of passengers on interstate travel. Read more…

Oprah Winfrey Plans a Tribute

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

USF’s Ray Arsenault Watches ‘Freedom Riders’ Book Gain Steam
by Eric Deggans, St. Petersburg Times

Imagine the most powerful woman in the media at the other end of a telephone line, emotion building in her voice as she asks to bring the story of your book to millions of her devoted followers.

That’s how Oprah Winfrey joined forces with University of South Florida St. Petersburg professor Ray Arsenault after she saw the PBS documentary inspired by his award-winning book, Freedom Riders. Read more…

Freedom Riders on Oprah

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Oprah Honors American Heroes: The Freedom Riders Reunite 50 Years Later

Tune in on May 4th to watch the Oprah episode on the Freedom Riders.

Ray Arsenault on NPR’s “Fresh Air”

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

Get on the Bus: 50 Years of ‘Freedom Rides’
Fresh Air from WHYY

May 4, 2011, marks the 50th anniversary of the first Freedom Ride. To commemorate the occasion Fresh Air is replaying interviews with civil rights activist James Farmer Jr., one of the organizers of the 1961 Freedom Ride, and historian Raymond Arsenault. Arsenault’s book Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice has just been rereleased as a companion volume to the film Freedom Riders, premiering May 16, 2011, on PBS.

The Callie Crossley Show

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Rip Patton at the WGBH studio of the Calley Crossley Show

Rip Patton on the Calley Crossley Show

Student Rider Peter Davis joined original riders Rip Patton (pictured), Bernard Lafayette and Genevieve Houghton at WGBH on April 20 for a Freedom Riders event.

After a preview screening and Q&A, the four were featured in an episode of the Calley Crossley Show.