Posts Tagged ‘ Day 1 ’
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!
By Anna Nutter
In the past few days, race has dominated our discussions and presentations. It cannot help but to do so as we view images of segregated bus stations, “colored waiting room” written on a door alongside “white waiting room.” In the 1960s and in the decades and centuries before blacks and whites lived intimately amongst each other. Black “mammies” nursed white babies. White men kept black mistresses. And yet, for all their physical closeness, an immeasurable distance separated the two races. Deception, manipulation, and collectively held shams forever colored relations between white and black. Mary Chestnut, in her famous A Diary from Dixie, wrote that plantation mistresses, when faced with the picture of their children playing alongside their slave half siblings, closed their eyes. Children as well as adults participated in such blindness.
John Seigenthaler remembers in the film Freedom Riders that he could not see his black nannies. They were living breathing beings but, in his four years old eyes, they were not really people. My eyes perceive you… but I refuse to see you. In the few clips we have seen, African Americans of the time were deeply conscious of white blindness. The hyper blindness of one correlated with the hyper sight of the other. During the short clip we saw in the documentary about the death of Emmett Till, a woman declared that as an African American in the Jim Crow South, you always agreed with whites, never contradicted what they said, and were constantly on the look-out for what whites wanted to you say in response. DuBois called this fractured experience of African Americans in the first part of the 20th century, “double consciousness.” African Americans, he claimed, always viewed themselves through the eyes of others. Not doing so risked, at best, social condemnation and, at worst, becoming Billie Holiday’s “strange fruit” swinging heavily from trees.
How easily I examine and analyze race in the Jim Crow South. I tell myself that these people, many long dead, are not my people. Their time, their social structure, these are not mine either. Zora Neale Hurston told her readers in her autobiography, Dust Tracks on the Road, that, while her ancestors had lived through certain experiences, she was and is not her ancestors. Judge me in my time she pleads, not just according to my race. Like Hurston, I see myself in my time. I am child of Facebook, Obamacare, and the Arab spring. Yet, as I look around the upturned faces gazing at the screen showing the story of the Freedom Riders, I wonder. What is the role of race for us? Has DuBois’s double consciousness gone the way of segregated waiting rooms? Or does it lurk, insidious and quiet, sneaking up at the most vulnerable of times?
By Doaa Dorgham
Fifty years ago the pivotal Freedom Ride movement began. The idea was simple: use nonviolence in order to eradicate the injustice of segregation by integrating public facilities such as public transportation. Yet as I embark on this journey, fifty years later, it is evident that racism is still alive and thriving in the United States.
I am a Muslim American and as such, flying in and out of airports is not always pleasant. As I entered the airport, with my suitcase and optimism, I instantly became aware of the stares and once again was subjected to yet another “random search.” After a thorough pat down, I made it through security and made my way to the gate.
As I began to take out Ray Arsenault’s book Freedom Riders, my attention was drawn to a woman wearing in a brightly colored dress, drenched in a flowery design. However, the situation was nowhere near flowery. She looked me straight in eye, with a look that could shake anyone to their core. My eyes remained persistent, locked with hers, in this glare of disapproval. I then looked at the woman and smiled. Suddenly I noticed the brief moment of shock in her eyes; her eyes then readjusted to the same of look of repugnance she exhibited earlier.
The irony of the situation is incredibly profound. Here I am about to partake in a journey that is celebrating the effectiveness of the Freedom Rides, yet I am in an airport facing animosity and discrimination. However, like the original Freedom Riders, I refuse to let these situations ruin my ideals and faith in social justice.
Today’s first lecture was from the famous activist Diane Nash. She eloquently articulated how citizens have an obligation to be actively engaged civically, and not merely vote every two years. She stated, “We loved you, even though we didn’t know you.” She then made it apparent that future generations will look at us, and ask what we have done for them.
Another point Nash made that clearly stuck out to me was the fact that you cannot change someone’s ideas, but you can change yourself. I believe the aforementioned statement is essential to any progressive movement. Although I cannot change people’s opinion of me as a Muslim American, I can refuse to become upset when faced with adversity, and use that power to become more proactive.
I sincerely believe that when one is faced with tremendous opportunity, it is selfish to not share such prized jewels with the rest of society. And as such, everything I learn on this incredible journey I will incorporate with “Wake Up! It’s Serious Campaign For Change” on my campus. The focus of the movement is to spur dialogue and initiate cohesion within the university as whole, addressing adversities of race, religion, and sexual orientation on campus and stopping intolerance in its tracks.
By William Dale
A spark. That’s all it takes. It takes a spark to start a bus, ignite a movement, to produce change. In the blazing summer of 1961, the Freedom Riders started that ignition, becoming a vehicle that drove the U.S. Civil Rights Movement to audiences across the world. Their mission: to fight segregation in inter-state travel in the deepest, darkest parts of the Deep South.
The Freedom Riders were extraordinary, ordinary people that faced extreme adversity and hardship. Over the past two days in D.C., I have met so many of these brave and heroic people. One rider, in particular, has been my hero ever since I learned of the Freedom Riders’ struggle. Her name is Diane Nash.
In our conversation with Nash, she explained Gandhi’s principles of non-violence. “Truth, love, and self-suffering…” she explained. “These principles were the basis of the Freedom Rides.” The journey towards truth is essential in the fight for freedom and justice, Nash said, and the search for truth influenced every decision she made during the summer of 1961. Nash’s second principle of love lays out the core of the non-violent movement. She loved her fellow riders, and she cared for their white, southern attackers. Nash cared for them so much that she wanted them to right their wrongs and carry out peace.
But it is the final principle of self-suffering that stuck out to me the most. The Freedom Riders were attacked by mobs, and their buses were firebombed. They risked their lives and signed their last will and testaments before “getting on the bus.” News of the treacherous rides traveled across the world, shining a spotlight onto the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.
Their dedication to the cause, however, makes me wonder if my generation has this same passion and commitment. I have never seen my peers physically fighting off their oppressors. I have never run for my life off of a burning bus, and I am not risking my life by posting my opinion on this blog. Things have changed.
Fifty years after the original Rides, the state of social activism and civic engagement has evolved, primarily through the social media boom. Engagement and social media are two streams that constantly intersect. You can connect to millions of people on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. The traditional activist is now fighting for change and justice on the web. Two questions, however, still bother me: “How will this change in activism affect the basic principles of truth, love, and self-suffering? Would our generation be able to ‘get on the bus?” These are the questions I hope to find answers to on the Student Freedom Ride, and in these answers, I hope to find my inspiration to ignite a new “spark.”
By Peter Davis
On the first official day of our Student Freedom Ride, my fellow 39 riders and I heard three talks at the Newseum. In the morning, it was an honor to hear Diane Nash — the legendary leader of the second wave of Freedom Riders — discuss why she participated in the Civil Rights Movement and challenge us to participate in non-violent direct action of our own. In the afternoon, we listened to Stanley Nelson — award-winning director of the Freedom Riders documentary that inspired our trip — describe how to bring history to life through engaging filmmaking. To end the day, we heard Jalaya Liles Dunn challenge us to find the stories that will be the ingredients of our generation’s movement: our story of self, our story of us, and our story of now.
What struck me about the three talks is that all touched on the poetic side of movements: the importance of words, of narratives, of stories in building energy to sustain a collective effort. Nash started her talk with an insightful analogy. “When scientific inventions arise, we need new words to describe them,” she explained, citing how electricity made the words ‘volts’ and ‘charge’ arise. “Likewise,” she continued, “when social inventions take pace, we need words to express them.” She then went on to describe how the Civil Rights Movement needed a new word to describe the power that the movement’s fighters used to wage war on segregation. They chose “Agapic Energy”— a phrase deriving from the agape, the Greek word for ‘brotherly love.’ Indeed, Civil Rights movers and shakers did not only use sit-ins, Freedom Rides, and marches as tools of change— they used language, too!
Later in the day, Stanley Nelson discussed how a good narrative makes a good documentary film, reminding us that you need to make viewers latch on to the stories, characters, and emotions of a piece of media if you want them to care about it. Appropriately, Jalaya Liles Dunn echoed this emphasis on narrative in her talk about how organizing begins with engaging stories— the stories of why the individuals involved in a cause became involved, the stories of the group’s shared values, and the stories of why their cause is urgent. As I reflected on these calls to new words, to engaging narratives, and to unifying stories with my fellow Student Riders late into the evening, it hit me: the movements of the future cannot survive solely on organizers…they might just need poets as well!
By Samantha Williams
The day before the original Freedom Riders departed Washington D.C. for the first ride in 1961, they came together in what was half-jokingly referred to as the “last supper.” They settled on Chinese food — unfamiliar cuisine to a then 19-year-old John Lewis. I say “half-jokingly” because, though they hoped for the best, they knew that the consequences of their impending ride could potentially lead to death. Their lives were on the line, and they had spent months preparing for this nonviolent movement to eradicate segregation in the South.
Tonight, as I sat amongst my fellow student riders and Ray Arsenault (the author of Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice) eating Chinese food just as the Freedom Riders had done, I began to understand the weight of the situation. The journey that began 50 years ago at a Greyhound bus station in D.C. will continue tomorrow from the very same place.
Earlier this afternoon, Jalaya Liles Dunn from the Children’s Defense Fund gave an incredible presentation about “charting the next route for freedom and justice.” As she outlined the ways in which we can improve our communities, she emphasized the importance of understanding ourselves, engaging others who share a common thread, and creating “the story of now.”
The Freedom Riders “had a story of self and built themselves into a story of we,” she said.
“They created the story of ‘now,’” added Peter Davis, a student rider from Cambridge, Mass. On May 17 when the bus is emptied and we go our separate ways, we cannot forget the importance of writing our own story of ‘now.’ As individuals we are weak, but together there is no stopping us.
It cannot be done alone and it certainly can’t be done with just 40 students. It will take an entire movement of young people to become civically engaged and respond to the pressing issues facing our generation. Whether it is racism or other forms of intolerance, education or foreign policy — there are a number of issues that directly affect each of our lives and they will not be corrected if we continue sitting by, apathetically waiting for someone else to fix the problem.
Diane Nash eloquently said, “You have no control until you exert control.” She’s right — our voices will not be heard until we turn up the volume.
By Zilong Wang
At the end of the first 24 hours of the 2011 Freedom Ride, I would like to do some reflection on my learning.
It has been extremely inspiring to exchange ideas with both generations of Freedom Riders. At the same time, learning about the original Freedom Ride has been a humbling experience: compared to the original 1961 Freedom Riders, we students haven’t yet contribute anything comparable to their courage and wisdom. We, the forty students, have been very fortunate: nice hotel, delicious food, wireless bus, press and media (instead of violent mobs) waiting for us at our bus stops. It is exactly because of the sacrifice of the 1961 Freedom Riders that we are able to enjoy the peace and liberty today. We are grateful, and we realize how much responsibility we are carrying as the youth of the new century.
Actually, I believe that we, the students, have mostly been at the receiving end of society’s care and resources: college education, generous scholarships, attention from family and community, even people serving us in hotel, restaurants, and buses, etc. Now is the time that we start to put the energy back into the society, to repay the debt we owe to countless people and institutions, and to make the system better by our collective actions.
Today, we also initiated the discussion on “freedom and justice,” key words of our Ride and activism. Before we jump right into the debate on freedom and justice, I would like to take a step back and reflect upon the meaning of these two words.
We are almost biologically conditioned to love words like “freedom” and “justice.” These words makes us feel so good; they go right into our guts, and sometimes bypass our scrutiny. I wonder: what do we mean by freedom? When we join each other in the cause for freedom, do we have a good understanding of what we want to achieve? What comes after? The same question would be valid for “justice” and all other big words that we use (or abuse, from time to time).
I believe that one of the greatest injustice is to assume that there is such a definition of justice that fits everyone and every nation; and, it is one of the worst mockeries of freedom to impose our own definition of freedom upon other people and groups. If we are too self-righteous about our own understanding of freedom of justice, then we risk turning these words into tyranny and hypocrisy. We have to be especially conscious and cautious about joining the parade of “freedom or justice,” and to think twice before we preach our beliefs to others. This awareness might be the beginning of true freedom and justice: free from prejudices and arrogance, just from the perspective of others.
By Lily Astiz
The power of love she says! The power of love, Amen! She says it’s the love for mankind, the unique energy that that love creates in all of us that gives us the strength to demand change. Agapic Energy, that’s what Diane Nash says, the student organizer from Nashville who was essential to making the Freedom Rides possible. I feel that love. It’s the love at the base of humanity, the love that moves through all of us like a breathing current. It’s a current that once tapped, will sweep you off your feet and out of the illusions of segregation, isolation, and powerlessness that bind your understanding of yourself, the world and your relationship to it. It’s a feeling, something powerful yet unseen. This love is dangerous to oppression, hate, dishonesty, and helplessness because it expands not only your hearts, but also how you understand that nature of your own narrative. What’s your story? Who defines you? Who draws the limits to what you can do? Are these limits real? How much of what you believe do you assume from the language and images that are presented to you by society? It feels like a movement is stirring, much like what Nietzsche explains as an “awakening.” Humanity is beginning to see the hidden constructs and infrastructure that create the myths that rule our thoughts– the idea that we are out of control of our own destiny.
I am not saying this awakening will happen overnight. The ingrained habits of the mind as well as pressures to conform, mistrust, and live within a “defined” world all make it difficult to break free from the chains of oppression, the chains we create inside of us that limit ourselves and our minds. Yet, I know who I am. I am a human being and I will not live in illusion. I am a human being, and with that knowledge I know I am connected to every other human being throughout the world by a common thread. It is my humanness that connects me to this planet and to those who inhabit it. It is our humanness that we have forgotten. And if we are to survive the challenges that face us in the years to come, it is our humanness that we must liberate and awaken in all.