Posts Tagged ‘ Michael Tubbs ’
By Michael Tubbs
Anniston, Alabama is an iconic site in the psyche of all those involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Fifty years ago, home grown terrorists slashed the tires and attempted to burn the bus holding the Freedom Riders. Today, we revisited the site of the horrific incident to participate in the grand openings of the photo exhibit and two murals.
In a sense, the movement was defined by that fire. Through those flames, the nation was able to bear witness to the blind bigotry and hatred that consumed far too many. Through those flames, the brave men and women emerged as heroes dedicated to the cause of non-violent direct action and the power of love. Through those flames, my vision of Anniston and civil rights today has been sharpened and borders on being critical.
My experience thus far on the bus has convinced me that reconciliation is a process not a moment. At the dedication of the photo exhibit for the burning bus, the son of one of the mob members hugged a Freedom Rider who was on the bus, welcoming him to the town. Although the moment was special, it was not, as many were calling it, reconciliation. For reconciliation to happen, the present should not bear much resemblance to the social realities of the past. A local woman eloquently echoed these sentiments saying, ” we got this mural after fifty years but we have a long way to go.” In towns nationwide, blacks still face police brutality, inferior education, employment difficulties and a host of other ills.
In many respects the election of the first black president and commerating the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides is the beginnining of the long process towards racial reconciliation. Sure moments and memories are nice, but unless we seriously address the racial inequities that plague us in every sphere, fifty years from now our children won’t be able to hold any dedications commemorating the work we did. It’s definitely important to look back and reflect on the past, but it’s more important to collectively turn our gaze to now and the future and frankly engage with the work that still needs to be done.
By Michael Tubbs
“Fifty years later, Oh yes. Fifty years later oh yes” was my rendition to the popular freedom song, originally sung by the Freedom Riders. They looked at me and smiled as they added their expert voices to the chorus, and we stood united in front of the Newsuem celebrating and marveling what they had accomplished when they risked death to desegregate interstate buses. The entire first night of the Student Freedom Ride was a blur but included a heart to heart with original freedom rider Earnest “Rip” Patton, a brief conversation and photo with one of my personal heroes, Congressman John Lewis and my first time viewing the documentary that got me on the bus, Freedom Riders by Stanley Nelson.
The Student Freedom Ride is an awesome opportunity to reflect on how far the country has progressed but also poses a challenge. It is a challenge that Freedom Ride coordinator Diane Nash characterized as “what history will require of [me].” At the very least, I know that history will require that I give back and pay forward the amazing opportunities I have been given, including this one, as a direct result of the blood, sweat, and tears of those that came before me. Additionally, the training we received from the Children’s Defense Fund’s Director of Youth Leadership and Development Jalaya Lyles Dunn forced me to consider the question, “What am I called to do now?” and to use this trip as a time to begin to chart a new route for freedom and justice in my generation.
At 20, I am the same age as many of the Freedom Riders were in 1961. I can’t fathom facing death or even expulsion from school, but I am passionate about social justice, especially in regards to equal education and ending the cradle to prison pipeline. I am certain that this is what I am called to do and I look forward to hearing the answer to Jalaya’s question from my fellow rides as we embark on this journey. As the night came to an end, original Freedom Rider Robert Singleton said that he has been jailed for his participation in the movement on August 4, 1961 and that a baby named Barack Obama was born on the very same August 4, 1961. The lesson from this was that history is made in the present, and the decisions and sacrifices that I make on May 6, 2011 will impact a child who is just coming into the world on this day.