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Posts Tagged ‘ Joan Mulholland ’

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 4: Give Thanks

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

By Diana Mahoney

They are like pieces in a complicated jigsaw puzzle. Daily, we try to piece them together in an effort to capture and convey the chaos of emotion racing and swirling through our minds and hearts. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we don’t. People remember them, repeat them, build hopes and dreams around them, get their heart broken by them. Words. In contrast to the strength of emotion behind them, they seem flimsy in comparison. In syllables, we try to capture and convey what lies beneath our surface. Chaining meaning to sounds, trying to transmit hearts brimming with emotions to those around us.

Thank you. Two short words that seem to ring empty and hollow in nearly every situation that demands them. How can the same two words that are used in response to someone holding a door or ringing up your groceries be used interchangeably to express how you felt the time your friend, who had an exam the next morning, spent the night driving you hours to the hospital to see your grandmother the night she died. That’s right, they can’t.

That’s why I was surprised today when those two simple words came to be the rocking moment of my day. Which, if I’m being honest, I’m beginning to get used to. Being caught off guard and shook up daily in the most unexpected moments, by the least likely of people.

It was during the beautiful luncheon put out in Rock Hill, South Carolina where the infamous Friendship Nine Sit-Ins occurred that it happened. The lights had been dimmed and we were halfway through the documentary on Rock Hill that she walked across the room. Young and beautiful, the well-dressed African-American girl bent down and leaned her head in close to Joan Mulholland’s.

“I have to leave early, but I just wanted to come over and say thank you for making this life possible for me.” I watched out of the corner of my eye as Joan reached out and wrapped the young girl in her embrace.

“I love you.” Joan whispered into her hair. I felt my heart skip a beat. It was just such an incredibly beautiful moment. Suddenly it hit me. That this tiny, beautiful woman sitting next to me played a huge part of life as I know it. I gazed around the room at my fellow student riders and thought of the people that have played parts in my life up to this point. At their varying skin tones, of their diverse ideas, of their unique voices, of how much richer my life has become because they are in it. Of how much of this beautiful life I would have missed had this woman and those like her not stepped up and spoke out.

I feel like my “Thank you.” doesn’t cut it. Every time I see these incredibly courageous people, I want to convey how each and every day I am appreciative for the world they sacrificed so much for. The world I was lucky enough to grow up in, thanks to them. But somewhere deep down inside, I know that no matter how many times I say it, those words stand almost as a barrier in conveying the swell of emotion, gratefulness and indebtedness I feel I owe to each and every one of the original Freedom Riders. It is humbling to graciously accept this gift the Freedom Riders have given us. I can’t fit together words to say thank you properly. As the days roll by I find myself more and more in agreement with author Elizabeth Gilbert who reflects that, “In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”


Day 4: Islamophobia: Influence of the Media and Education

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

By Bakrom Ismoilov

Tuesday morning, May 10. Embassy Suites Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina. Joan Mulholland gathered the student riders for a dialogue on Islamophobia that was brought to her attention by the event happened on Friday. Two imams who were headed to Charlotte for a meeting on ‘Islamophobia’ were taken off a commercial flight after the pilot refused to fly with them.

My fellow riders joined for a short roundtable discussion, which was decided to be continuingly discussed during the ride. Being a Muslim student, I was glad that this discussion started, as in my view, it is a growing issue that might have serious consequences.

A specific attention was paid to the influence of the media on people’s perception of the religion of Islam. Do we consider the media as a deceiver of people’s minds that has a political touch to it? Do we see it as a truthful entity that is just and tolerant? Or can we make the media a resource for the civic engagement and educate people properly?

In my opinion media falls into all three categories: it can be an ally, an enemy and a resource. And I do believe in the power of civic engagement in overcoming political interests by love and integrity.

But, how about the institutional education in US? As 15-year-old exchange student in Battle Creek, Michigan, during my American History class, we were asked which is worse, communism or terrorism, after which it was explained to us that Communism was evil and terrorism was an Islamic action. How can we trust what is taught in schools, and how can we change it? I keep replaying the words of Diane Nash in my mind: “The issue that I see in our society is we don’t ask ourselves: WHY is it that I believe in what I believe?”

The 2011 Student Freedom Ride really brought us together for a reason — to be the CHANGE we want to see in our future. And it is of my biggest hope that this conversation will be continued during and after the ride.

Verse 49:13 of the Holy Koran states: “O mankind! We created you from a pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other not that ye may despise each other. “


Day 4: New Blood

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

By Marshall Houston

Joan Mulholland and Bob Singleton have freed me over the past five days.

After listening to Joan speak for 20 of the most compelling minutes of my life on the bus ride to Greensboro, North Carolina, I caught her trailing at the back of the pack in the International Civil Rights Museum. During those 20 minutes on the bus, Joan became my hero and mentor, but she didn’t know it when I caught her and started talking in the museum.

We paused for an extra 45 seconds at the Mississippi books exhibit and immediately connected over our love for books. I am an avid collector of books on nearly every subject, and I normally can’t leave a bookstore empty handed. As Joan started discussing her books from the movement, a spark flickered in her eyes, and she said that her favorite books are the hidden treasures—ones you don’t go to the bookstore to find—and that when you find them, you seize the moment! I mumbled something in agreement, too overwhelmed with joy that my hero embraces these serendipitous moments just as much as I do. “Not everyone understands this. Soulmates,” she exclaims.

Speechless. I wrote her quote in my notebook as fast as possible; how else could I react to Joan Mulholland telling me that we were soulmates?

As we came to find out over lunch, Joan and I share more than our love of chance encounters with books; we share a Huguenot heritage by way of Charleston. I’m stunned again! This can’t be happening.

Joan marched me up to the front of the crowded banquet hall and, with a piercing shrill, quieted the room to tell everyone that we are family. FAMILY. With Joan Mulholland……

As a white male from Birmingham with a family history as deeply tied to Alabama as the thick, sticky humidity, I have not had guidance—philosophical guidance—on how to feel when I see gruesome pictures of lynchings where people with faces like mine beam with pride. Joan gave me this guidance.

Through her actions over 50 years ago, Joan, as my newly reconnected relative, gave me the confidence to escape any baggage or regret that I was holding onto, thinking that holding onto some notion of shame in Alabama made me like the Freedom Riders. This mindset of regret and shame is a sickness, and I can’t help but laugh at the mindset that I once held so dear.

After only five days on the ride, I have made a startling revelation; I have a white mother from Virginia in Joan Mulholland and a black father from Los Angeles in Bob Singleton that link me with hundreds, if not thousands, of brothers and sisters of every race and creed and heritage in the family of deep love! Together we celebrate the individuality of each relative’s heritage, and I have no more shame or regret.

As they say, blood is thicker than water, and I have new blood.


Day 4: Lily Astiz

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011


Day 3: Inciting Radical Memory

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

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.