Posts Tagged ‘ Louisiana ’
By Tariq Meyers
She cried. Grasping my hand she pulled me down to her level. She was old and slight of build. Her skin was the color of caked Mississippi clay. Her eyes were a hue of teal and gray. Her lips clinched tight forming wrinkles around her mouth as if each line told a different story; each crease, a different narrative; each trench, a time when the old Louisianan spat wisdom.
Tears running down her face, she thanked me. Thanked me for caring—for loving; but why? I had done nothing. I submitted an application, boarded a bus, and began the 2011 Student Freedom Ride. I stopped in 18 different cities, checked in at 10 different hotels, slept in 10 different beds. I saw 10 different moons, 10 different stars, heard 10 different rattles of worn out air conditioners. I witnessed 18 different forms of poverty, and 18 different forms of wealth, experienced 18 forms of welcomes and goodbyes—but this one was different, this one felt different, this one meant something different. This wasn’t just any old city, it was New Orleans. The same New Orleans that met Katrina, the same New Orleans that is burdened with poverty and corrupt police, and the same New Orleans that never saw the arrival of the 1961 Freedom Riders.
She embraced me, held me close. I had finished the sojourn. She waited 50years for that bus to come, 50 years for the Freedom Riders, 50 years—waking each day in hope that justice would soon rise with the sun over the bayou. We stood there connected, our heart beats in sync. I was holding history in my arms. She witnessed sunsets of “colored” signs, hoods that yelled “nigger.” She saw police beat her sisters, and men lynch her brothers. She grew tired of standing and was sick of back door service; done with being spat on and fed up with living with fear. Her name was not “auntie” or “nigra” or “girl,” her name was not “you” or “lady” or “bitch”; she is a human being, a child of God, inferior to no one. But she waited, waited fifty years, because she knew the Freedom Riders would come one day, someday, even in the dark days. She held me close because we had arrived.
We were the manifestation of her hope, the manifestation of her vision. The struggle of the Civil Rights Movement had come to fruition. We were 40 strong – black, white, yellow, tones of red and brown. We were Catholic and Protestant, Jew and Muslim, Hindu and agnostic. We were gay, straight, transgendered and bisexual. We were old and young. We came from the North and the South, from coast to coast. We were rich and poor; came from top universities and community colleges. We were sending a message, a clear message: “We shall overcome.”
She let me go, looked me in the eyes. She gave a smile and said, “it’s your turn now, don’t let nothing turn you around.”
“We shall overcome some day. Deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome some day. We’ll walk hand in hand; we’ll walk hand in hand. We’ll walk hand in hand some day. We shall overcome.”
By Ryan Price
American Experience has truly allowed the 40 of us college students to live through a vital American experience. As I sat Saturday night in the fifth pew in First Baptist Church in Montgomery, I admired the men and women in the four rows ahead of me. In the first row sat some of America’s greatest treasures: the Freedom Riders.
Jim Zwerg, Helen and Bob Singleton, Rip Patton and Joan Mulholland comprised that first row. After spending multiple days with them, I can confidently say that their idealism for America might match that of our founding fathers. These five courageous American citizens have dedicated their lives to forming “a more perfect union,” and still, tirelessly, continue to do so.
In the next three rows sat some of America’s greatest promise: the 2011 Student Freedom Riders. I recognized the back of each of their heads and I can recall each of their stories. Each of their idealistic fires will lead them to invigorate Civic Society (Peter), protect laborers (Meghna), or save the environment (Zilong).
The communal feeling among our five rows was real. As we watched the documentary and celebrated with the original Riders that night, I began to intimately understand the civil rights movement’s ideal of the “Beloved Community.” We were in it.
In our circle, with our brothers and sisters, we could share anything. For example, I have even sung multiple times on this trip despite being diagnosed with stage-five tone-deaf disorder (and only got a little ribbing about it). I may have shattered windows when I belted out “This Little Light of Mine” in New Orleans, but no one in our small family cared.
We have spent the last ten days with Pulitzer Prize winners, an amazing travel agency team, passionate members of the PBS crew, 39 friends and allies, and multiple American heroes. It has been an absolute privilege to live through this American experience. I have no doubt that we will recognize the unparalleled opportunity this ride has afforded us and will honor it by giving back.
It is neither pure coincidence nor justice’s inevitability that enabled the 40 of us diverse students to ride on a bus together in 2011. It was just 50 years ago that justice’s inevitability was in question, when the 40 of us could not simply ride a bus side-by-side. Indeed, justice in 1961 looked like thirteen-year-old Hezekiah Watkins sitting on death row for integrating buses. Just 50 years ago those who “protected and served” did so by granting the Klan 15 minutes of free time to ravage the young nonviolent Freedom Riders.
The forty of us understand this well now. One of the original Freedom Riders looked at us the other night and defined our duty:
“Memorials can not be confined to buildings or artifacts. Memorials must be living. The 40 of you will go out into this world when you’re done here, and whether you know it or not, you will be a memorial to what we did in 1961. You will be walking, living, breathing memorials.”
The responsibility that demands of us is, quite-literally, monumental. If we go on to serve as living memorials to the sacrifices of the Freedom Riders, we will love all of our brothers and sisters, stand firmly for human dignity, and organize to protect constitutional rights. We will also teach our respective communities that one of the best ways to overcome injustice is to laugh at it, as Joan, the Singletons, Rip, and others did in 1961. And I don’t know about the other student riders, but I’ll have freedom songs stuck in my head for another three months. So Des Moines, Iowa, be ready to learn some new music!
I guess what I’m trying to say is this: thank you American Experience for educating and empowering our younger generation. You have enabled diverse friendships while renewing the young idealistic spirit in us that is so central to actualizing the American Dream and the Beloved Community.
The 40 good-looking new monuments across the country will go out into this world as a testament to the value of your education. Take a bow American Experience, and, more importantly, original Freedom Riders ,because your work has earned you the right to do so. Thank you.
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.
By Robert Sgrignoli
Today, I reflected on how truly lucky I am to have been chosen for this experience. Not only have I had the opportunity to see the textbook come to life, supplemented by actual testimony of those who created history, but I’ve also had tremendous people surround me along the way. When I had originally touched down in Washington D.C., I never expected to be as fortunate as I have been to gain friends such as these.
Originally, I had thought this trip was only going to pertain to the civil rights movement in 1961, but I have been exposed to an assortment of various issues. Whether it was Francisco and Maricela telling me about the DREAM Act, or Doaa informing me on discrimination against Muslims, I have been blessed to have dialogue with them. Every rider on the bus has their own issue that they are concerned about and I wish I had more time to talk with all of them, but the common factor uniting them is their extraordinary determination to change the world.
I am also eternally grateful for the chance to have people help point out my flaws such as Rachael, Anna, Erica and Sarah showing me my own internalized male-supremacy attitude that has been instilled in me by society. My roommate, Ryan, has widely expanded my knowledge and concern for the LGBT community that I have never noticed before.
I am thankful for the opportunity to have hung out with Crews and Petey, two of the most intellectually stimulating and simultaneously hilarious people I have ever met. Having been able to listen to Charles, Tubbs, and Michellay speak on violence showed nothing less than a genuine passion for empowering the youth and exposing racism in the criminal justice system.
Lily, Davy, and Carla exhibit traits I wish I could obtain; they refuse to fit into a mold that society wishes to impose upon them. I rarely hear peers as articulate as Marshall, Karl, and LeRoy; I’ll be waiting to see them on television running for office. Zilong– this kid asks the deepest questions I have ever heard! JWalk, I appreciate the late-night conversations we shared. Alicia, they coming!
I thank Tania, Raj, Meghna and Esther for making me feel comfortable right away. Baha, Will, and Jason can make anybody laugh and it was much needed on this very emotional trip. Jayanni and Tariq can always be counted on to voice their opinions and produce interesting dialogue. I was happy to see amazing talent in the arts whether it was May and her slam poetry or Jaja and his fluid freestyles.
It was also inspiring to see some of us who have already achieved so much academic success such as Kaitlyn and her acceptance into law school. There were also those I got to know later on in the trip such as JoyEllen and Samantha, bringing their own unique viewpoints and encouraging conversation on a wide assortment of issues. Diana and Stephanie were extremely easy to relate to and were great to interact with.
One of the most real and caring people I have ever met has been Lu-Anne. Talking to her on the bus and seeing her remain humble and genuine has really been a great highlight of the trip. I will put $5 down that we’ll see her on a musical stage someday. Now my main peeps: Lauren and Sara. It has truly been an amazing ride and far surpassed all expectations, and it is all because of their hard work.
One last thanks to everybody involved with the trip, I cannot express my gratitude enough!
By Esther Kim
Was it naïve to think things would have remained superficial on a trip like this? That we could have treaded water for ten days?
In a sleepy haze, on an early morning that has become part of an already blurred memory of this bus ride, I texted those questions to myself.
While my fellow riders spoke to “knowing history to understand our future” in their introduction videos, I shared my interest in what the group dynamic of the students would be while on this revisiting of history.
The lines drawn across identities and communities and the un/conscious reasons why we did or didn’t engage with one another revealed so much about the state of race, gender, class, sexuality, awareness, politics, civic engagement and activism within this generation.
At times I think we collectively recognized the depth and weight of what we were witnessing— in Rock Hill, in Anniston, in New Orleans. You couldn’t escape it if you had wanted to. But how do we connect what we learned about the original Freedom Riders to how we live now? The Freedom Riders worked to challenge the social segregation of the South, and yet the self-segregation on our bus went acknowledged and unaddressed. But is the answer to desegregate, especially in the case of self-segregation? Are these actions merely reflective of the need for community based on more than circumstance?
This experience has challenged my idea of community. It would have been naïve to assume that after ten days on a bus we would magically become a collective. Or maybe this is exactly what a community looks like. Maybe my fellow riders will vehemently disagree with my thoughts but that doesn’t change our shared experience. I reflect on the emotion behind the charged words of Jerome Smith, a leader from the New Orleans Freedom Rides group. His frustration came from his perception of how the New Orleans group was not adequately represented in the recent Freedom Rider recognition. The fact that this history of the Freedom Rides cannot be contained within a two-hour documentary, a 700-page book, or a ten-day bus ride reminds us that we cannot be satisfied with what we are given, and that the movement for truth and justice is never ending; whether or not we can do this as a community, only time will tell.
By Michellay Cole
As this wonderful journey concludes, I want to reflect by answering the question, “So what will you do next?” I felt inspired to write this poetic piece after listening to some of the original Freedom Riders speak with high school students in Mississippi.
I’ve decided that from this day forth, I will dedicate my life to the struggle for civil rights.
From this day forth, I will lead others as I follow God. I will forgive those who threaten the movement towards civil rights for all individuals because I know that my enemy is not any being but that instead, my enemy is any institution that disregards the sanctity of human life.
I’ve decided that from this day forth, I will dedicate my time and energy to telling the stories of those that often go untold. From this day forth, I will not allow laziness, complacency, or mediocrity to dominate my life. I will use my talents to spark change and make a difference in my life and the lives of others because I know that one person, no matter how small, can make a difference.
I’ve decided that from this day forth, I will dedicate my voice to spreading knowledge to those who are deprived of education. From this day forth, I will be the change I would like to see in the world. I will not criticize corrupt or ineffective institutions without offering a better solution because I know that faith without work is dead.
I’ve decided that from this day forth, I will aim to motivate others to also dedicate their lives to the struggle for civil rights. From this day forth, I will not pull up the ladder of success and close the door of opportunities once I accomplish my goals. I will instead lower the ladder and leave the door wide open for the next generation so that they too can accomplish their goals.