Posts Tagged ‘ Georgia ’
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.
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 4–May 11: Augusta, GA, to Anniston, AL
As we left Augusta, I gave a brief lecture on Augusta’s cultural, political, and racial history–emphasizing several of the region’s most colorful and infamous characters, notably Tom Watson and J. B. Stoner. Then we settled in for the long bus ride from Augusta to Atlanta, a journey that the students soon turned into a musical and creative extravaganza featuring new renditions of freedom songs, original rap songs, a poetry slam–all dedicated to the original Freedom Riders. These kids are quite remarkable.
In Atlanta, our first stop was the King Center, where we were met by Freedom Riders Bernard Lafayette and Charles Person. Bernard gave a fascinating impromptu lecture on the history of the Center and his experiences working with Coretta King. We spent a few minutes at the grave sight and reflecting pool before entering the newly restored Ebenezer Baptist Church. The church was hauntingly beautiful, especially so as we listened to a tape of an MLK sermon and a following hymn. The kids were riveted.
Our next stop was Morehouse College, King’s alma mater, where we were greeted by a large crowd organized by the Georgia Humanities Council. After lunch and my brief keynote address, the gathering, which included 10 Freedom Riders, broke into small groups for hour-long discussions relating the Freedom Rides to contemporary issues. Moving testimonials and a long standing ovation for the Riders punctuated the event. Later in the afternoon, we headed for Alabama and Anniston, taking the old highway, Route 78, just as the CORE Freedom Riders had on Mother’s Day morning, May 14, in 1961. However, unlike 1961’s brutal events, our reception in Anniston, orchestrated by a downown redevelopment group known as the Spirit of Anniston, could not have been more cordial. A large interracial group that included the mayor, city council members, and a black state representative joined us for dinner before accompanying us to the Anniston Public Library for a program highlighted by the viewing of a photography exhibit, “Courage Under Fire.” The May 14, 1961 photographs of Joe Postiglione were searing, and their public display marks a new departure in Anniston, a community that until recently seemed determined to bury the uglier aspects of its past. The whole scene at the library was deeply emotional, almost surreal at times. The climax was a confessional speech by Richard Couch, the son of a Klansman who was part of the bus-burning mob in 1961. When Mr. Couch walked over to Hank Thomas, who was savagely attacked in 1961, to embrace him and ask for forgiveness and reconciliation, there were tears all around. The students and everyone else in the room were stunned. I have never seen anything quite like that moment. Later Mr. Couch and Janie Forsyth McKinney, the 12-year old white girlwho braved the mob in 1961 to come to the Freedom Riders’ aid, joined the students at our hotel for a two-hour deiscussion of race and reconciliation. I would wager that those of us who were in that room will remember the depth of feeling and searching questions and comments of the students for the rest of our lives. Words can’t describe what took place in the hearts and minds of the Freedom Riders, young and old, last night.
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.