Posts Tagged ‘ Day 5 ’
By Rachael DeMarce
Even on a warm day in Atlanta I felt the heat from the Eternal Flame across from the tomb of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. The plaque states “The Eternal Flame symbolizes the continuing effort to realize Dr. King’s ideals for the ‘Beloved Community’ which requires lasting personal commitment that cannot weaken when faced with obstacles.” The warmth the flame provided reminded me that his legacy and philosophy live on today.
We continued down Auburn Avenue, on a sidewalk that I could visualize Dr. King walking on, into Ebenezer Baptist Church. Opening the doors was like stepping into history. I sat in the front pew looking directly at the microphone that he used when preaching. I could not help but feel touched and wonder what it would be like to hear his voice in person. Ernest Rip Patton reminded us how fortunate we are as students. I glanced across the street to see Rip, an original Freedom Rider, who was talking to a group of about fifty elementary students and thought, “what a treat for them.” I have learned that the original Freedom Riders take each opportunity, even if it’s an impromptu one, to share their stories.
In elementary school, I often found myself the only student of color, and because of this I discovered a personal connection to the struggles of African Americans during the civil rights movement. These events however lived only in textbooks. The students in the grass across Auburn Avenue were living history, and they were living it with us.
By Jayanni Webster
Talking with you the other night in our Charlotte hotel room, I watched as you opened your heart and expressed your frustrations in knowing that you benefited from white privilege. I sensed you felt limited by your skin color because for you, being an ally was not enough, being an “associate” to the struggle was not enough. Like you said, you have the option of leaving this ride and going back to your home and not deal with issues of racism and racial oppression while others on the bus, like myself, do not.
I know you will continue to wrestle with these feelings and continue to do the right thing. But I want to extend a helping hand because I saw in you, in that moment, an immeasurable amount of love and maturity.
If you look up the word ally a few phrases come up:
- To unite formally
- To associate or connect by some mutual relationship, as resemblance or friendship
- To enter into an alliance, join or unite.
- A person, group, or nation that is associated with another or others for some common cause or purpose
Joan Mulholland, a white student on the original Freedom Rides, is an inspiration to us all. She in my eyes is not just an ally and quite frankly has never been. She’s a Freedom Rider. The ratio of black and white students who participated in the rides was nearly 50/50. In being an ally, Joan and all these others made a dangerous sacrifice—facing bodily harm, condemnation and death along with black students. That load was and is still a heavy one. Being an ally does not make them less valuable than those whose rights they were and are still fighting for.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualist concerns to the broader concerns of humanity.”
Kaitlyn you are living. And to be alive is to grapple with these issues like you did. Continue to be that activist, that innovator and problem solver because you are making a difference.
I learned as a Facing History and Ourselves student that to recognize a common human struggle and to take action about it is to be an “upstander” rather than a bystander to injustice. For me, an “upstander” goes beyond the realm of being an ally and really speaks to what Joan and others did and what we should inspire future generations to do as well.
By Samantha Williams
What is love? Is it toleration of things you don’t understand? Is it an attachment to someone or a display of affection? Maybe it’s all of these things or none at all. I’ve lived my life believing that I understood love — that I knew how to love. Today in Anniston, AL. I realized that I knew absolutely nothing about it.
Over the past few days I’ve spoken with our resident celebrities (i.e., the Freedom Riders), strolled through museums and historic sites, and sang beautiful, inspiring songs of freedom. But after rolling into Anniston, the parade I had been marching in suddenly stopped and the rain started to pour. In my naivity, I believed that when we arrived in “The Heart of Dixie” the entire city would be ready to right the wrongs of 1961, when Anniston residents firebombed a bus filled with human beings.
I am very appreciative of the city providing us dinner and a place to stay for the night. I spoke with several members of the community whom I believe had pure hearts and truly wanted to overcome the town and the country’s dark past. After dinner Wednesday night, we attended a ceremony in which we joined hands in singing “We Shall Overcome” and wept as we witnessed reconciliation between Hank Thomas, a man that was on the bus that day, and a man whose father was in the mob.
As touched as I was to see these sincere moments, it is my responsibility as an American to give an authentic account of what I felt watching these events unfold before my eyes. Reconciliation was soon overshadowed by speeches about economic development and an agenda to prop up the local economy from what sounded like a used car salesman — and that salesman was the mayor.
The Freedom Riders were acknowledged sparingly, while community members who helped put on the events were treated as the true heroes. Hank was given his time to speak (although it was not scheduled in the program) and Charles Person, another Rider on the bus that day, was able to speak at the dedication of a mural but without a microphone where only a handful of people (mainly media) could hear him. Meanwhile, local politicians were heard loud and clear as they incessantly encouraged us to come back, start businesses, and tell all of our friends about the great initiatives going on in the city. While it may sound nonsensical to assume these decisions were intentional, a conversation I had with a local Anniston resident does not make it any easier to dismiss my initial reaction that some people still did not understand the gravity of the situation.
I met a black woman, most likely in her late 60s, who revealed to me that, “this is not a city for black people.” She said that schools are still mostly segregated, black people can only get a job if it’s “in the back scrubbing floors,” and poverty in the black community is not the exception, but the rule. I could hear the pain in her voice when she said she couldn’t wait to leave Anniston. All of this she said an arm’s length away from the mayor, who approached us and asked that she quiet down because the program was starting.
I must commend the Freedom Riders who had not one unkind word to say about the ceremonies and rejoiced in the progress the city has made. When Charles Person was asked how he feels 50 years later being in the place he nearly lost his life, all he could say was how happy he was to see progress, no matter how small. He said that nonviolence is more than just being nonviolent. It must be rooted in love, he said. And here I am, feeling angry and confused. Nope, I did not understand love.
Charles loves the men who punched him and threw him to the ground as he was struggling to breath. He loves the men dressed in white, hooded robes and the women cheering them on with babies on their hips. He knew at 18-years-old that without love, the movement would not succeed and he knows today that without it we cannot move forward. There’s a Bible verse that reads, “Love never fails.” Charles taught me that this isn’t just a cliché phrase — it’s a lifestyle. Standing in Anniston at the spot where Charles was beaten, I realized that he did not fail, the Freedom Riders did not fail, and most of all, love never failed.
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.”
By Meghna Chandra
During one of our impromptu conversations about history, one of my fellow Student Freedom Riders made the point that the best way to love something is to critique it. My most beloved professors have encouraged me to think critically about the world. In that vein, several days before I left, student activists came together to hold a teach-in entitled “WTF Penn? Questioning Penn’s Moral Compass” in which we examined the immoral activities our university is engaged in, from research for the Pentagon, to unfair labor practices. A significant theme of the day was “Whose blood and bones are we walking on for our privilege?”
That’s why I must raise questions about this beautiful, crazy, educational, exhausting, and emotionally demanding ride.
Sometimes I wonder if this ride through the south, through communities like Anniston, Alabama and Petersburg, Virginia which are plagued by economic blight, is analogous to a group of students taking a Civil War Tour of the country during the 1950’s, celebrating the victories of the Union, while ignoring the then ongoing Civil Rights struggle.
Before Martin Luther King, Jr. died, he launched a new campaign, the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign. This campaign was an effort to unite people across color lines to abolish poverty. One of Dr. King’s least known, yet most telling quotes is, “What good is having the right to sit at a lunch counter if you can’t afford to buy a hamburger?” The Civil Rights Movement was not only a struggle to end racial injustice, but economic injustice as well.
As we drive through these towns, getting on and off the bus to the very best of Southern hospitality, we must remember that so much work remains to be done, work that will not be accepted by everyone who supports the memory of the 1961 Freedom Rides. However, to follow in footsteps of the Freedom Riders is to fly in the face of opposition to fight for truth, equality, and most importantly, love.
By Maricela Aguilar
Today we arrived in Anniston, Alabama. The air conditioner was working once again, and I had been able to catch up on sleep and I was ready to take on the afternoon. What I was not ready for were the words of Hank Thomas, one of the Freedom Riders that fifty years ago rode the bus that was set on fire on its way out of Anniston.
He spoke on the second-class citizenship generated by Jim Crow laws, and how he was mandated to serve in the military during the Vietnam War to protect the freedom of the Vietnamese and yet was not free himself in his own country; how sadly ironic, to be seen as worthy of fighting for your country’s prestige and ideology, and yet to be unworthy of inclusion in its creed of equality, to be perpetually living in a state of second-class citizenship in which you are theoretically immediately included yet always practically not.
This is exactly the position millions of undocumented students find themselves today. Undocumented students who through no fault of their own are American in every sense of the word, but lack the legal paperwork to prove so. Undocumented students who have lived in America the majority of their lives and have followed the American demands of excelling in academics, participating in community service, taking part in extracurricular activities and being law-abiding American citizens, and yet cannot legitimately claim they are legally American.
American citizenship should rest on civic engagement and ideology—a deep belief in the words of the founding fathers. Hank was an American yet had additional legal restraints that prevented him from truly being so. Undocumented students are Americans yet they lack a legal claim to this identity. Hopefully in the near future, just like Hank was able to bring down the legal restraints on his Americaness, so too will undocumented students be successful in legally establishing theirs.
By Collis Crews
We left from Augusta, GA at around 8:30 am. and arrived in Atlanta at around 10:30 am. On the way to Atlanta, we had a poetry contest in which my fellow student riders came to the front of the bus to perform some sort of poem, song, or rap. As I was listening to the performances, I was also having a conversation with fellow student rider Anna Nutter. I was telling her about how the exhibits in the International Civil Rights Museum as well as the documentary The Murder of Emmett Till brought tears to my eyes. Seeing the grotesque face of Emmett Till after he was killed was very mind boggling and I asked myself, “In the case that Till’s murderers did have morals, where were they when they were beating and shooting him?” My emotions also spilled out because I was also talking to Anna about my late great-grandfather from Mississippi who, even when he came off as a happy and joyous person that would do anything for his community, I could still see the pain and suffering in his eyes from the oppression he dealt with under Jim Crow. Anna also inspired me to write a poem highlighting the emotions I felt during the ride. I called the poem “Are You Satisfied”, because there are a few people at my school, North Carolina A&T, who feel that I lack emotion and wish that I would gain some. It took me about ten minutes to write and when I recited it on the bus everybody loved it.
When we arrived to Atlanta, we visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site and the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. King used to speak. I wish we could have spent more time at both places but we had to keep moving. While I was at the Church, I literally could feel Dr King’s spiritual presence and it was something that I wanted to keep feeling.
When we arrived in Anniston, AL, we were welcomed by a great dinner and afterward we went to the Freedom Riders reception in the Calhoun County Public Library located downtown. There we heard Charles Person talk about the emotions he felt coming back to Anniston and how fifty years ago he and his fellow Riders would have expected the complete opposite. When Person was telling his story, the tears were rolling down my face constantly. We discussed our emotions in a conversation when we got to the hotel.
Today I realized that before the trip, it was hard for me to express my emotions. I plan on coming back to A&T a new person who will find it easier to share his emotions, and this ride will do the trick.
By Davy Knittle
Yesterday morning, I stood in the basement cafeteria of the United House of Prayer in Charlotte, North Carolina with Tom Hanchett, Staff Historian for the Levine Museum of the New South. I thanked him for coordinating the breakfast with the elders that the Freedom Riders young and old were taking part in. We had been standing on the side of the room, looking out towards the cafeteria that was full of light from the chiefly red and blue stained glass windows on either side, but he turned to me before he next spoke and looked at me directly. He said, in response to my thanking him, that the work that we’re doing is essential because it’s bringing healing to a lot of people, that it’s allowing them to revisit the history of the last 50 years in a way that allows for collective forgiveness and that emphasizes the basic human beauty of everyone who finds, or needs to find, some kind of home in the history of the Civil Rights Movement.
Throughout the ride, I’ve been uncertain as to exactly what purpose we’re serving, as student riders. Tonight, in Anniston, Alabama, where a Greyhound bus carrying six of the original CORE Freedom Riders was firebombed and burned on May 14th, 1961, I got off of the bus and was greeted by a member of state government who grabbed my nametag and turned it over so that when she said “Welcome to Anniston,” she greeted me by name. We’ve been saying to each other, on the ride, that each stop, each conversation, each town is singular. Each town, similarly, is in need of a singular sort of healing.
Yesterday, I asked myself “who are we to heal anyone,” but it seems that it is because we’re young and engaged in the process of being engaged that we’re able to bring healing to each place where we stop and reflect and allow ourselves to be received. As it turns out, the physical act of 40 students from different places, experiences and, maybe most importantly, racial backgrounds riding together in the interest of active collectivity is a gesture of healing in and of itself.
It’s a tenuous relationship that we have between what we can offer and the processes that we complete by being present in each place. Our ability to internalize, to observe and to accept the past and present circumstances of each town is essential, so it feels, in that town’s ability to begin to rejoin an American collectivity previously blockaded by that history, to be part of a national decision to move forward by recognizing each person’s comprehensive humanness. In each moment, our job as Student Freedom Riders, is to meet that moment with relentless openness, and our work is to be ambassadors of healing by means of that openness, to let our natural hopefulness extend, and to leave some of it, as a figure of our appreciation for our consistently warm and grateful reception, in each town, and along the roadway where the original Freedom Riders traveled.