Posts Tagged ‘ North Carolina ’
By Jayanni Webster
Talking with you the other night in our Charlotte hotel room, I watched as you opened your heart and expressed your frustrations in knowing that you benefited from white privilege. I sensed you felt limited by your skin color because for you, being an ally was not enough, being an “associate” to the struggle was not enough. Like you said, you have the option of leaving this ride and going back to your home and not deal with issues of racism and racial oppression while others on the bus, like myself, do not.
I know you will continue to wrestle with these feelings and continue to do the right thing. But I want to extend a helping hand because I saw in you, in that moment, an immeasurable amount of love and maturity.
If you look up the word ally a few phrases come up:
- To unite formally
- To associate or connect by some mutual relationship, as resemblance or friendship
- To enter into an alliance, join or unite.
- A person, group, or nation that is associated with another or others for some common cause or purpose
Joan Mulholland, a white student on the original Freedom Rides, is an inspiration to us all. She in my eyes is not just an ally and quite frankly has never been. She’s a Freedom Rider. The ratio of black and white students who participated in the rides was nearly 50/50. In being an ally, Joan and all these others made a dangerous sacrifice—facing bodily harm, condemnation and death along with black students. That load was and is still a heavy one. Being an ally does not make them less valuable than those whose rights they were and are still fighting for.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualist concerns to the broader concerns of humanity.”
Kaitlyn you are living. And to be alive is to grapple with these issues like you did. Continue to be that activist, that innovator and problem solver because you are making a difference.
I learned as a Facing History and Ourselves student that to recognize a common human struggle and to take action about it is to be an “upstander” rather than a bystander to injustice. For me, an “upstander” goes beyond the realm of being an ally and really speaks to what Joan and others did and what we should inspire future generations to do as well.
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 3–May 10: Charlotte, NC, to Augusta, GA
We started the day with a breakfast meeting at a black Pentecostal church in West Charlotte. The students had the chance to sit with local civil rights activists such as former Freedom Rider Charles Jones, who gave another inspirational “blessing” that included rousing freedom songs. The next stop, a few blocks away, was West Charlotte High School, an important site in the school desegregation saga in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Since our freedom bus was temporarily out of commission (the AC was being fixed), we drove up in a red, doubled-decker, London-style “party bus.” Some of the kids rushed out to greet us, perplexing the school security guards, who weren’t expecting a freedom ride on their doorstep. West Charlotte High, once a model of racial integration and educational improvement, has fallen on hard times, the victim of resegregation and neglect since the mid-1990s.
On to Rock Hill, SC, the birthplace of “jail-no bail” in February 1961 and the home of the courageous Friendship Nine, arrested in 1961. Five of the nine joined us for an emotional lunch at a recently refurbished McCrory’s, site of the famous 1961 sit-in. Andrea Barnett, a black special-ed teacher from Charlotte, who recently completed a 3,000 mile Freedom Ride (designed to instill self-confidence in her students) on her motorcycle, accompanied by her white boyfriend, from DC to New Orleans and back to Charlotte, was on hand to sing a beautiful and moving folk song (that she wrote) dedicated to the Freedom Riders. Also on hand was a Catholic priest, Father Boone, who has been in Rock Hill for 52 years, much of the time a lone local white voice preaching racial tolerance and justice. It was quite a scene. As we drove off across South Carolina to Augusta, GA, there were more than a few tear-stained faces on the (mercifully) retooled, air-cooled freedom bus. On to Atlanta and Anniston this morning.
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. “
He spoke of sacrifice. He spoke of love. He spoke of dreams fulfilled. He was Charles Jones, a civil rights activist with the wit to organize and the courage to partake in the mass sit-ins of Charlotte, North Carolina of 1960. In reflection of his highly decorated life, Mr. Jones showed no hesitation in expressing his emotions in their most raw form. He would begin a sentence with a laugh and end with tears, providing me a ticket to the only emotional rollercoaster I have ever been on. In conversation with Mr. Jones, there was an underlying theme of prophetic love of all people despite suffering terrorism by many.
I have often wondered if interspersed within those dreams is the increasing frequency of nightmares. He spoke of love; we practice love of self. He spoke of a dream of the “Beloved Community”; we dream of fancy cars. Mainly he spoke of the sacrifice of himself and many others based upon their vision for us. His words resonated much with Diane Nash’s “we loved you without knowing you.” I wonder if Mr. Jones worries that his accomplishments through sacrifice will be sacrificed by the youth to further their own personal success in life.
Mr. Jones and those who spent years in the trenches drive through the same streets we do. They witness the dilapidated housing, the practice of isolation over inclusion, and the crumbling of our families. Today was a true wake up call for me, one I intend on answering not only for myself, but also in tribute to those before me. I have a bag of quarters to make some calls, at least I know those on the bus will pick up the phone.
By Tariq Meyers
Four walls. Four walls composed of sheet rock, plastered with two coats of paint, graced with plexiglass and topped off with fluorescent lighting beneath images of hate; images of suffering; images with no hope. They call this construction an exhibit. Grade school children and adults alike gaze upon disturbing images but find relief upon exit because the dark images are behind them—the tour goes on. It is convenient to isolate history of pain to a room, easy to believe that bigotry is a thing of the past—that the struggle is over. Museums and exhibits mystify history—presenting it in a way where one is led to believe that what is presented is over. So when one encounters a mob lynching, the death of four little girls, the bullet hole in the windshield of Viola Liuzzo, or the handsome hazel-eyed turned eyeless image of the murdered Emmett Till—one’s anxiety fades knowing the suffering is over; that the fear is isolated between images of hate and fluorescent lighting; beneath layers of paint and plexiglass; beneath sheet rock and concrete.
As I connected to the teary eyes of Ernest Rip Patton, I began to realize that our fifty-year sojourn (in the making), our difference in years, no longer mattered. The man who stood before me was 19-year-old Rip Patton, the courageous hero of 1961. Anxious and afraid, confused and connected as I was, the connection (young) Rip and I shared in the museum exhibit revealed the secret that hides behind museum walls. The secret is that history is very much in the present, that history is very much real. In that moment I came to understand that, though the pictures of the abused and the deceased were isolated on the walls, it did not mean the struggle was over; that the pain was gone—rather is very much underway. I stood there with Rip as we gazed upon the face of the beaten Freedom Rider. This may seem typical of museum activity, but understand why this was so significant: I was staring at the face of a beaten Freedom Rider alongside a Freedom Rider. Yes, together we gazed, (young) Rip and I, at the images isolated to plexiglass and fluorescent lights, beneath concrete and drywall—and it is there that I discovered that the mystified “ghosts” of pain and suffering were just images transplanted on paper with ink of different shades to give the illusion of looking aged and old. Yes, it was at that moment I realized that the secret that hides behind museum walls is a living history, that can’t be isolated to words on a page, ink on a paper. The (young) Rip and I will forever be connected.
By Sarah Cheshire
As we cross the Virginia-North Carolina border, moving south towards Greensboro, I look at the faces around me. Each person on the bus has a story. I have spent the past few days listening to these stories, trying to soak them all in. There are stories of hardship, stories of strength, stories of bravery, stories of defeat, stories of passion and of humor, of loss and of gain, of oppression and of privilege, of the past and of the now– we are all here because we are grappling with the now, and we all have stories that we bring to this struggle.
My story starts here, in this soil.
I was born in North Carolina and raised in North Carolina, as was my father, and his parents, and his parents’ parents, and generations of ancestors beyond that. I know my history because I’ve heard prideful stories about it from relatives, who’ve heard about it from relatives, who’ve heard about it from relatives, and so forth. There are stories of cavaliers, of founders, of plantation owners, of generals and of intellectuals.
These are the people who I read about when I open history textbooks.
I rarely hear about the slaves who toiled endlessly in the cotton fields. I rarely hear about the cheap labor exploited to build our country’s infrastructure. I rarely hear about the women who worked behind the curtains during movements and protests and wars. In the telling of our collective history, these stories have frequently been omitted. The fact that I can trace my ancestry back to Jamestown, the fact that the narrative of history is told through the lens of people who bare the same skin color and cultural background as me, has made me privileged in America.
As we walk through the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro, I see pictures of lynchings and bombings and firehosings, of men in white cloaks setting fire to erect crosses. I am tempted to avert my eyes. I think that often it is easier to look away than to face the pains and shames of the past head on.
For me, the first step towards reconciliation is the ability to look at pictures such as these–to really look at them– and in doing so to look at ourselves. By critically examining our own relationship to the past, and applying the lessons learned from the past to the present, we can begin to articulate a holistic narrative of America; a narrative inclusive of every voice, of every individual story.
By Alicia Skeeter
“Remembering is a radical act,” says my fellow freedom rider Carla Orendorff. Remembering means to recall to mind things of the past, whether enjoyable or difficult. When one decides to take this chance, one hopes for feeling happiness and delight but also runs the risk of feeling pain and even guilt. When we look at the injustice about history, that history isn’t fully representative of all peoples of all races, perhaps that is because remembering is something our country doesn’t want to do because it knows that once it looks back, not all of the feelings that will be evoked will be desirable. If America would reflect on everything, not just the select events it chooses, things would make more sense. With all the information accessible to people, solutions to problems and injustices should be able to be found.
Today we talked to the first black mayor of Greensboro, North Carolina, Evon Johnson. She told us that it wasn’t until she got “baptized in the history of social justice” that she got involved in the movement for change. What if we could have a mass movement of baptisms, a revival of sorts, that allowed people to know history and become involved in the movement and make great changes, like Evon Johnson did? The Student Freedom Ride in a way is acting as this revival, a baptism, a baptism of 40 to become refreshed and passionate to create a just society.
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.