Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

Posts Tagged ‘ Jim Zwerg ’

Day 10: My Heroes

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

By Jason McGaughey

For most of my life I have wrestled with deconstructing my own sense of history. I have understood since I was a child that the brutal systems of oppression that have been historically implemented and maintained were and are imposed upon my fellow human beings by oppressors who look like me. What does it mean to be proud of your history even after you have come to this realization? As a white male, this question has been very difficult for me to come to terms with. The only answer that I have is that I can say that I am proud of my history because I understand that not everyone who looked like me was part of the systems of oppression. There have always been those who look like me who have fought against injustice.

The number of whites who fought against injustice may not have been huge, but it means that the magnitude of their courage is only that much more valiant. This trip has provided me with the opportunity to speak with two such heroes.

Jim Zwerg was one of the original Nashville Freedom Riders. A white student at Fisk, he came to participate in the demonstrations and volunteered to risk his life by traveling into the Deep South, challenging Jim Crow laws in bus and train stations. He was brutally beaten during this process by white supremacists, but still managed to hang on to the principles of nonviolence and not give in to hate. To shake his hand and hear from him about the principles that have guided him, moved me to my core.

I also had the privilege to experience this entire journey with Joan Mulholland, a woman from the South who challenged social norms to stand up for justice during the sit-ins, and joined the Freedom Rides during the call to fill the jails of Mississippi. She spent time in Parchman Prison for her convictions, and has held strong to her beliefs on equality and justice.

White people who dared to stand up against such seemingly unbreakable systems of exploitation, and who maintained faith in the power of transformation, are truly inspiring to me. As a young person coated with white skin, I take heart in their triumphs and tribulations.

I have hope that in my generation that there will be more and more white people like Jim and Joan who come to awaken from their slumber. It is long past time for society to call for an end to white privilege and end to systems of oppression. I have hope that one day, I likely will not live to see it, this nation will finally end systems of exploitation. I have hope that one day white people will stop perpetuating systemic racism and will discard racial injustice. It is high time that justice reigns true, and stories from the heroes of the past give me hope that more people who look like me will challenge the system and become heroes for future generations, bringing them hope and pride that we can rise above and destroy oppression. The movement lives on and I take courage in the tales of the past and strength in their legacy. They give me hope to face the obstacles in my own life that I will face as I continue their fight against oppression and for justice.


Day 7: Sarah Cheshire

Monday, May 23rd, 2011


Day 8: To Hope and Forgive

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

By Alicia Skeeter

There have been two actions that I have been examining over the freedom ride: to hope and to forgive. Hope and forgiveness have been exposed to me in real and piercing ways over the freedom ride, the past two days especially. I want to understand these two things and gain a greater perspective on them. This experience is providing me the space to do that.

The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama embodies what it means to hope. When we visited there, this is all I could think: How could the people of the church and community continue to move forward after being bombed and after four of the congregation’s children were murdered? I couldn’t and still don’t understand that strength, that courage to hope. To hope is to say that things are going to get better. I know if I were a part of that church, it would have been very difficult to have those same emotions and same actions.

During our visit we met some church members and listened to the Carlton Reese Memorial Unity Choir share testimonies and songs of hope and of freedom. In their church, one of their stained glass windows is called the Wales Window. This window is a very powerful piece of art that is a visual expression of what hoping and forgiving really looks like. The Wales Window is a picture of a man with his arms spread wide, one hand pushing away and one hand open, in a receiving position. The hand pushing away is supposed to represent the fight to overcome oppression. The receiving hand is open to welcome forgiveness and love. The 16th Street Baptist Church is hope; the 16th Street Baptist Church is forgiveness.

Another way these actions of hope and forgiveness have been presented in a very real way during this ride was through Jim Zwerg’s talk on nonviolence. He was an original Freedom Rider who was hospitalized because he was beaten so severely, and never returned to the Rides because of his injuries. He has such a gentle spirit. I especially recognized this spirit in the way that he talks – his speech is a reflection on how peaceful he is because he is forgiving. Jim Zwerg is forgiveness. He told us that while people were beating him, he was praying for them and forgiving them. Who does that? How? These are the questions I will continue to ask. I will look to the 16th Street Baptist Church when I need a reminder of what it means to hope. I will look to Jim Zwerg’s story when I forget what it means to truly be forgiving.