Posts Tagged ‘ Day 3 ’
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.
By Alicia Skeeter
“Remembering is a radical act,” says my fellow freedom rider Carla Orendorff. Remembering means to recall to mind things of the past, whether enjoyable or difficult. When one decides to take this chance, one hopes for feeling happiness and delight but also runs the risk of feeling pain and even guilt. When we look at the injustice about history, that history isn’t fully representative of all peoples of all races, perhaps that is because remembering is something our country doesn’t want to do because it knows that once it looks back, not all of the feelings that will be evoked will be desirable. If America would reflect on everything, not just the select events it chooses, things would make more sense. With all the information accessible to people, solutions to problems and injustices should be able to be found.
Today we talked to the first black mayor of Greensboro, North Carolina, Evon Johnson. She told us that it wasn’t until she got “baptized in the history of social justice” that she got involved in the movement for change. What if we could have a mass movement of baptisms, a revival of sorts, that allowed people to know history and become involved in the movement and make great changes, like Evon Johnson did? The Student Freedom Ride in a way is acting as this revival, a baptism, a baptism of 40 to become refreshed and passionate to create a just society.
By Carla Orendorff
Today we visited the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro, the former site of a Woolworth’s department store where four students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University demonstrated in a sit-in that changed the course of the Civil Rights Movement. As I walked through the halls of the museum, I was met by images of lynching, cross burnings, and the brutalized and unrecognizable face of Emmett Till. These are images that I know well from history classes, but seeing them this time was different. Standing with the original Freedom Riders and student riders, I could feel the weight of sadness in the room. We were not simply looking at historical photographs, we were collectively trying to remember.
History can erase people, actions, and movements. History can also impose master narratives on the people who lived and participated in its creation. But memory gives us the opportunity to reclaim wisdom and reconstruct its meaning. It is both a retelling and an invention of the past.
As I occupied the room where the original Greensboro Four demonstrated, I wondered quietly, what could happen if we re-imagined these sites? How do we transform these sites of memory into sites of action and protest?
I had the opportunity to sit with Joan Muholland, one of the original Freedom Riders. We talked about postcards, our love of family photo albums, and the strange desire to always keep moving, traveling. As I listened to her stories from a life-long commitment to activism, the weight in my heart filled with joy. Our time on the bus is not just about retracing history, but recreating a shared, inter-generational memory.
By Stephanie Burton
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt the urge to cry, yet here I am with that undeniable and highly embarrassing tickle in my throat. We–40 excited college students, certain members of the press and yes, those original, fearless Freedom Riders–are on our way to Greensboro, N.C., a historic stop on our ten-day journey, and a single loan tear is fighting to make its way south toward my cheek, mimicking the route of the rolling bus. The culprit? Meghna Candra, 19, a University of Pennsylvania student and my bus partner for this 2-hour trip to N.C. Born in India, Meghna came to the U.S. with her parents at the tender age of two. She enjoys bike rides, sampling Philly’s “culinary landscape” and exploring new adventures. Her sparkling nose ring and long eclectic skirt adds to her overall laid-back vibe, and she often murmurs “mmmhhmm” before answering a question. You never have to wonder if she’s really listening…just wait for that reassuring sound.
This is how our light-hearted chatter began, as perhaps it does with many friendly strangers who find themselves sitting next to each other in a quaint space.
But as we talked, I began to learn more about Meghna’s hopes, dreams and fears. She told me about her family’s eight plus year struggle to gain citizenship and how it fueled her passion to reform immigration laws. She taught me a brief history lesson on immigration in the U.S. and about the unjust cases that have led so many men and women to menial paying jobs, unfair labor conditions and/or death by bounty-seeking, minute-men. My new bus companion talked about her work with the Coalition for Immokalee Workers, an advocacy group that fights for better labor conditions for Florida’s tomato farmers. She engaged me in dialogue about the specifics surrounding this group—how some members make $10,000 a year or less, how their lives resemble modernized slavery—and I soaked up this new information. I thought, ‘Wow, this girl is going to change the world!’
Then it was my turn.
I told her about “Swipe, Swipe and Swipe Again,” the event my friends and I planned, which fed over eighty members of Tallahassee’s population. I confided in her my plans to open a pregnancy resource center in Montgomery, Alabama, my hometown, and how I can’t wait to start a non-profit for young girls. It was her turn to learn more about my hopes, dreams and fears, and she did a wonderful job. She responded by giving me a newspaper, “One Step away,” which is a publication that is written solely by homeless people for homeless people. She told me that she was going to throw it away that day, and something told her she should keep it. Imagine that! I was amazed, and I feel inspired to start a publication in Tallahassee, Florida, my university’s city.
A newsletter would allow the homeless population to find their own voice. Instead of just giving them aide, a newsletter would allow them to help themselves and to ban together to solve their OWN issues. It’s brilliant. It’s inspiring, and that’s why I sit here facing the window with tears in my eyes while Meghna helps herself to some of my Cheez-its.
Our simple conversation was like water for my mind. It was enough to give me a new idea. It gave me a new reason to do what I do!
By Ryan Price
Today I laughed often, sweated gallons and wept openly.
Whether it was John Walker’s (better known as JWalk) ridiculous story of his mountain-top coal mining protest or laughing with Joan Mulholland at her pride in going to jail, humor pervaded the day.
The offhand jokes all day on the bus, coupled with the way the original Riders resisted with humor 50 years ago brought levity to a heavy day. Amid learning of their struggles and oppression, they taught us the real power of laughter. Hell, if the jailer is going to take your toothbrush for singing, keep singing at ‘em. Just don’t open your mouth as wide.
Early this afternoon, the laughter gave way quickly in the stifling heat. There are few words we dread hearing on the bus more than, “The air conditioning is out”. I might even prefer, “We got a flat” or “The lavatory is out of order.” The heat quickly shot up to over 90 degrees while the sweat beaded down our faces during our intense workout, sitting.
The joyful ruckus of debate, discussion and laughter was for the first time silent in the heat of the mid-afternoon. For the first time, our condition was similar in one way to that of the original Freedom Riders. We were still safe, at ease and in the company of friends. All of us could sit wherever we wanted on the interstate bus without fear of retribution. But for the first time, the trip wasn’t entirely comfortable.
The heat already set my nerves on end. I felt short tempered as I packed and unpacked my bag on the bus. Imagine the confluence of variables the original Riders faced- environmental heat, the heat of oppression, social ostracism, threats of violence and death. It all made me think- if we can barely handle the heat, how could we ever measure up to them? What we realized after the Civil Rights Museum, quite explicitly, is that we can’t.
It’s been at least a year since I last wept openly, but I have no shame over the tears I tasted today.
In solemn silence our tour group entered “The Hall of Shame” in the International Civil Rights Museum.
We were greeted with the image of a burnt human soul on the ground in front of a sea of happy faces. A burnt black body lied dead amidst the crowds of the happy faces.
This was followed by the image of two men hanging from a tree, their once healthy bodies clearly beaten by clubs before their hanging. The tour guide explained lynching, forgetting that the image in front of us was a more vivid definition than she could ever hope to give.
The tour guide then moved on, and the thick silence was interrupted as Rip Patton (original rider) cleared his throat, “Hey,”
The group paused and guide said, “Yes?”
“Hey, wait,” he said, clearly choking up.
We all waited eerily as the strongest, most respected man in the room gathered his ability to speak. Moments turned to seconds as the air thickened.
“There was a lynching in December of 2010, December. That’s all.”
The Civil Rights Movement needs no dramatization or hyperbole. An accurate look at American History, taking away the revisionist celebrations as we travel through these states, clearly reveals our own capacity for evil.
The Civil Rights Movement was a peaceful response of human dignity against the violent machines of human evil, and the stories of those two hanging men, Emmett Till, Viola Gregg Liuzo and the other victims I learned of today testify to it.
That’s where I shed my first tear.
If we could gather even a fraction of the courage these past idols had to stand up for civil and human rights, just a fraction of it, we will be able to move mountains.
As Bamidele Demerson, the director of the museum said when we entered, “We’re hoping that this generation, the generation of today, can take us even further than the original freedom riders.”
Through laughter, sweat and even tears, let’s move mountains.
By Kaitlyn Whiteside
Today I came to terms with being White.
I sit on the bus beside these incredible riders, both young and old, and I hear their stories about oppression, discrimination, and racism. I think about my background, searching for some story to offer as a condolence, an explanation, a possible similarity of struggle but all I come up with time and time again is privilege, luck, and incredible circumstance. By all accounts I have lived the ultimate American, White, middle-class life: stay-at-home-mom, private school, family all around, college education… love and support surrounding my each and every decision. For most of the afternoon I wallowed in misunderstanding. How can I even sit on this bus and pretend to belong here? How can I possibly relate to challenges and obstacles that these people have faced and more importantly, will continue to face once we leave New Orleans and go home. If I wanted to, I could forget I ever stepped foot on this bus, forget I met these incredible people, and go back to Atlanta to my friends, my sorority, my job and let “the race debate” be something I save for intellectual play time. But for people of color, they’ll go home and without question, whether they like it or not, will continue to face these issues every minute of every day. I felt like a fraud sitting around the table tonight, an idealistic do-gooder, desperate to somehow understand and turn this cause, their cause, into my cause. But I don’t want to be an ally. I don’t want to watch the struggle play out from the sideline as I cheer on without real involvement. I want to be an activist, an innovator, a problem-solver. My whiteness must become irrelevant. I want to get drawn in not by default or accident of birth, I want to get drawn in, like Joan, because I want to make my home a better place and for right now, my only option is to do that in the skin I was born in.
By Zilong Wang
Today, the Student Freedom Riders had a discussion on racial division. I have long had the suspicion that mankind would constantly draw lines among themselves until aliens attack the earth; only after the ET arrives would we then realize that we the people in this world are indeed all humans, and we are not that different from each other.
But the aliens aren’t attacking. So do we have other ways to get rid of the endless division and opposition among ourselves? I do not have an answer to this question, but I would like to reflect upon the root of the divisions.
It almost seems that the tribal-style division is a part of our deepest animal instinct; even chimpanzees are divided into groups and launch warfare against each other. Humans divide themselves into groups for food, security, warfare, economic interests, control over resources– for survival. This survival game is then turned into group division based on skin color, nationality, geographic location, language, economic class, social status, etc. Various institutions are formed to perpetuate the structure and culture of a group: churches, monuments, schools, courts, political establishments, etc.
In order to form a unified group identity and to increase group cohesiveness, we then create “the others” to show the contrast. “The others” are portrayed as inferior in order to show that we are superior; “the others” are unethical and backward so that we appear to be moral and civilized; “the others” are a threat to our society so that we need to unite within our group and fight against “the others.” And in many situations, we form divisions to satisfy our ego: we are different and we are much better. Division and discrimination have become an important part of many people’s ego and psychological wellbeing.
So before the aliens attack the earth (and force us to see the truth that all of us on earth are equal humans), what should we do? We should be aware of where our divisions come from, keep the conflicts in control, and find common ground to increase mutual benefits. We should get the ego out of the way of our reason, and realize that we would even increase our self-interests by loving, not hating others.
If humans do not reduce their divisions and enmity against each other, they will probably destroy themselves before any ET makes its way to earth.
By LeRoy Ford
When we think about the civil rights movement everyone thinks of Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks. But what about those who came before them and gave them the courage to stand up for civil rights? What about the young men and women that fought just as hard, if not harder, for us to have the freedoms we have today? What about the unsung heroes?
I found myself to be ashamed when we pulled into the town of Farmville, Virginia on Day 2 of the Student Freedom Ride. I was ashamed because I had no idea that I was pulling up to such an important part of history. It was a part of history that has directly impacted my life, yet I knew nothing about it. A young 16-year-old high school student changed history forever. This student, Barbara Johns, had more courage, bravery, and dedication than I could have ever had when I was 16. That she recognized that she and her classmates were being treated unfairly and stood up and did something about it speaks a lot.
She rallied her classmates to strike against the inequality of the black schools and the white schools. Just to think about how the schools decided to shut down for five years instead of integrate breaks my heart. But the dedication of Barbara Johns and her classmates changed history forever. This is one way the unsung heroes have changed the lives of you and me.
Now I can proudly say that I am no longer ashamed of the fact of not knowing, because now I know. I know that it took more than just the people we constantly hear about in history text and classes. It’s not just about the ones who have holidays in honor of their service. It’s more than just them. It’s about everyone who had the courage and dedication to stand up for what they believed in. These unsung heroes who paved the way for you and me deserve as much credit as those constantly in the spotlight. But I now understand that they didn’t do it for attention, fame, or praise; they did it because they wanted change and had the bravery to do so. I will forever be grateful for the unsung heroes!
By Davy Knittle
The dinosaur roamer
of an interstate system
American carousel access
to its breakaway points
emptied by the impulse
of its own travel
Jeff Davis highway and
the road to Richmond
flooded with electric cars, maybe
or becoming that land
made flat by its unreflected lights
No span is a highway island,
a glow that’s always on
The great drive an analog that
took no original account for wear
In the roadway, going –
some pools of weight on the trees
their shadows as a pull
to the highway shoulder
Their output points, 8:30 light
over the throw of construction
The highway the outcut center, then
of the base state of forest
of the specific tack of the land
The road a sphere outracing its radius
rewriting its everywhere center
over a fenceline, a raceway
a telephone tower archived between sets
the fixed start, and over again,
of a ceaseless region
This poem speaks to a number of questions that have dictated how I’ve seen the first days of the ride, about the physicality of what landscape we’re seeing, as compared to what the original riders saw. In many ways, the original Freedom Rides were an ideal enactment of some fragments of the American Dream. A roadtrip in the pursuit of civil rights speaks to both an idealized American freedom of action and a freedom of movement, by means of the interstate highway. It makes sense, given how roads and roadway automotive travel have figured into the American 20th century narrative of American exceptionalism and the enactment of autonomous American identity that one of the first crucial acts of the Civil Rights Movement was focused on interstate travel legislation. That to be American was, before almost anything else, to be able to travel on the roads.
With this in mind, I’ve been struck both by how extreme American urban desolation looks – how filled with vacant buildings the cities of Petersburg, Virginia and High Point, North Carolina are, and by how much of the American landscape stretches out along two and four lane commercial roads that fit the same nationally-prevalent businesses into the landscape. What does it mean for us to be undergoing this driving trip? In 50 more years, who will be on the roads? What will become of the roads, and of the people who need the roads to move around their home radii, when that kind of driving becomes untenable? What kind of an America will we have as a result? How does the change that will necessarily happen in the great automotively-bound majority of the country suggest or signal what other kinds of American change could look like? Who will we be, as Americans, when we are no longer a nation of drivers?
By May Mgbolu
Retracing the original 1961 Freedom Ride has been an incredible opportunity to explore the details of the civil rights movement, especially from a Southern perspective that has not been traditionally represented in my textbooks, teachings, and experiences. I wanted to go on this ride because I knew that at the end of ten days I would not have only met the heroes of the Freedom Rides and individuals that ignited and continued the fight for justice for decades, but also understand the relation of that past to my present.
Growing up in Arizona and experiencing the United States–Mexico border and immigration issues helped me to discover my passion and goal of contributing to creating a more inclusive society, where race does not play a powerful role in determining which groups have access to resources and opportunities.
Today we left Lynchburg, Virginia and traveled to North Carolina where we stopped in Greensboro, High Point, and are staying the night in Charlotte. However the highlight of my day was stopping in High Point and speaking with Mary Lou Blakeney. Mary Lou was a high school student that participated in the High Point sit-ins during the 60s in order to desegregate lunch counters. Mary’s personal story and experience in the civil right movement really inspired me and reminded me of Arizona, but particularly Tucson’s youth. Mary discussed how High Point sit-ins where the first demonstrations in North Carolina done by high school youth. She explained how the high school students were discouraged to participate in the sit-ns but felt it was their time and duty to create the change they wanted to see in their community. In Tucson, there has been a strong movement against immigration reform, and the current policies that negatively affect Latinos, immigrants, and the Tucson community. But over the past couple of months a youth group called UNIDOS, which is comprised of local Tucson high school students fighting for the preservation of ethnic studies, has gained a lot of negative attention and portrayed as anti-American due to their sit ins and openly expressing their mission. However that makes me question whether Mary Lou and the other high school students in the 1960s were considered anti-American then? Or were they visionaries that understood that these acts needed to occur in order to change the future?
I think too often we forget to look at movements like High Point sit-ins and commend students for being bold and standing up against oppressive figures and systems that neglect youth and others that have been left out of social and political discourses. I think this group UNIDOS has the potential to positively impact my Tucson community and help continue the legacy of youth voice and pave the road for future movements in Arizona.