Posts Tagged ‘ South Carolina ’
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.”
By Samantha Williams
As a kid growing up in a traditional Christian church, there was nothing unordinary about singing hymns every Sunday morning and more often than not, up to three times a week. We were singin’ fools. I knew the songs by heart and it became part of my culture and lifestyle.
When I began researching more information about the Freedom Riders, I found that music was an important part of both the Ride itself and the African American community. On the first day of the trip, original Riders Rip Patton and Bernard Lafayette, Jr. led us in a freedom song. I had never heard of such a thing before.
“Buses are a comin’, oh yeah. Buses are a comin’, oh yeah. Buses are a comin’, buses are a comin’, buses are a comin’, oh yeah.” We sang these words with the original Riders, a surreal experience to say the least. They explained to us that singing helped them cope with the emotionally draining circumstances. When the Riders were jailed for breaking segregation laws, they would sing in their cells until they could sing no more. When the prison guard would tell them to keep quiet and threaten to punish them, they would sing louder.
A few minutes after our song began, we had added lines like, “They can take my mattress” and eventually, “They can take my toothbrush.” Lafayette, however, had to stop and inform us that when it got to this point they had to remind one another that there were upwards of 20 people in a cell fit for four. Singing with their mouths barely open was the solution they agreed upon. Whatever it took to retain even the smallest ounce of dignity and pride.
Then, when I viewed Stanley Nelson’s documentary on the Freedom Rides, I heard a familiar tune. “Hallelujah, I’m a travelin’. Hallelujah, ain’t it fine? Hallelujah, I’m a-travelin’ down freedom’s main line.” It sounded familiar. Where had I heard this melody before? My mind traced the tune all the way back to childhood when at church, I would sing the lyrics, “Hallelujah! Thine the glory. Hallelujah! Amen. Hallelujah! Thine the glory. Revive us again.” The Riders tweaked the lyrics to fit their experience.
There was something very powerful in knowing that a song I sang as a small kid had been sung decades before by people I consider heroes. Songs that got them through one of the most dangerous events of their lives, got me through my own struggles. In a strange way, it connected us. It was almost as if a symbolic torch was being passed to 39 other students and myself. In a moment, their past met my present.
By Raj De
Many of the 1961 Freedom Riders were students, much like me, yet they taught the world about courage, about injustice. Today, a young school teacher spoke to us in Rock Hill, SC and she emphasized that “Students are teachers,” using the Freedom Riders as an example.
Tonight at dinner, I had a fascinating conversation with three of my fellow student riders about how to infuse creativity into the American educational system—divergent learning that encompasses diverse solutions, focusing on civic innovation instead of purely service, understanding of self, and emphasis on valuing each student’s opinion. Feeling no barriers, we bounced ideas off one another and I found myself learning a lot from my fellow students, while adding to the discussion as well. Our model of conversation was even an example of one of our proposed methods of educational reform—exchange of ideas between students, “Students as teachers.” We were practicing what we had heard in Rock Hill, without even realizing it.
Our insistence on positive educational change was particularly special to me because of the work I am doing this summer. I am interning at the Spring Creek Literacy Project, an educational summer camp for middle school girls in the rural mountain community of Madison County, NC, a region where high school graduation rates can run as low as 50%. The project is only a year old and is still very malleable, so I can bring my own ideas to fruition. I left our dinner conversation with concrete ideas to apply within the Spring Creek project and with a renewed energy for social change.
If I could successfully implement some of the ideas we talked about at dinner into the Spring Creek curriculum, the Spring Creek girls would approach learning as integrated with teaching each other, with reflecting, with problem solving, with passion and spirit, without boundaries—“Students as teachers.”
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.
By Michellay Cole
Since embarking on this Freedom Ride journey, I have been interviewed by numerous reporters all asking the same question, “Why did I decide to get on the bus?” After being on the bus for four days, I was inspired to answer this question through poetry. The following piece is a self-reflection on the struggles and realizations that I have come to since “getting on the bus.”
Missed call for Action
This call is for Action, who’s not in right now
Maybe I’ll leave a message for him anyhow
See I really need to reach him, he’s been on my mind
He’s the one I’ve been lookin for but just can’t find
I gotta tell him how I’ve been spending time with this other guy
Who’s appreciative, supportive and listens to me
You might know him; his friends call him Complacency?
Well anyway, I just thought I should let you know
This thing we got goin on, its movin too slow
You always want me to stand up for you,
Like I’ve been called to do that or something
It’s not my right or my fight
I don’t need to shine “this little light”
All you do is cry about how life aint fair
How we need to take responsibility and do our share
Im not tryna hear all that, this aint the time
Catch me in a few years, after I make a few dimes
Maybe then you’ll be more like him,
You know, Complacency would never
Ask me to do the things you beg of me
He knows how I am and doesn’t ask too much from me
In fact, he doesn’t ask anything at all
He sees no struggle and continues to fall
In the presence of violence he turns the other cheek only to look away
When our nation faces desperation, his cure is procrastination
I’m starting to see his true colors now
His ignorance reflects a fluorescent glow of damnation
His brightness is an illusion exposed through a flawed spectrum of distorted light
How could I have let myself be with him?
No longer am I blinded by the light of his darkness
I’m breaking up with Complacency and I’m calling you back
Forgive me, for I have forgotten my purpose,
But now I remember what my place on this earth is
Today I stand tall with my back off the wall
This time Action, I won’t miss your call
By May Mgbolu
Retracing the original 1961 Freedom Ride has been an incredible opportunity to explore the details of the civil rights movement, especially from a Southern perspective that has not been traditionally represented in my textbooks, teachings, and experiences. I wanted to go on this ride because I knew that at the end of ten days I would not have only met the heroes of the Freedom Rides and individuals that ignited and continued the fight for justice for decades, but also understand the relation of that past to my present.
Growing up in Arizona and experiencing the United States–Mexico border and immigration issues helped me to discover my passion and goal of contributing to creating a more inclusive society, where race does not play a powerful role in determining which groups have access to resources and opportunities.
Today we left Lynchburg, Virginia and traveled to North Carolina where we stopped in Greensboro, High Point, and are staying the night in Charlotte. However the highlight of my day was stopping in High Point and speaking with Mary Lou Blakeney. Mary Lou was a high school student that participated in the High Point sit-ins during the 60s in order to desegregate lunch counters. Mary’s personal story and experience in the civil right movement really inspired me and reminded me of Arizona, but particularly Tucson’s youth. Mary discussed how High Point sit-ins where the first demonstrations in North Carolina done by high school youth. She explained how the high school students were discouraged to participate in the sit-ns but felt it was their time and duty to create the change they wanted to see in their community. In Tucson, there has been a strong movement against immigration reform, and the current policies that negatively affect Latinos, immigrants, and the Tucson community. But over the past couple of months a youth group called UNIDOS, which is comprised of local Tucson high school students fighting for the preservation of ethnic studies, has gained a lot of negative attention and portrayed as anti-American due to their sit ins and openly expressing their mission. However that makes me question whether Mary Lou and the other high school students in the 1960s were considered anti-American then? Or were they visionaries that understood that these acts needed to occur in order to change the future?
I think too often we forget to look at movements like High Point sit-ins and commend students for being bold and standing up against oppressive figures and systems that neglect youth and others that have been left out of social and political discourses. I think this group UNIDOS has the potential to positively impact my Tucson community and help continue the legacy of youth voice and pave the road for future movements in Arizona.
‘American Experience’ Freedom Ride to Stop in Rock Hill
by Culture & Heritage Museums News Release
ROCK HILL, S.C. — Rock Hill has been selected as a stop on May 10 for the 10-day 2011 Student Freedom Ride, memorializing the 50th anniversary of the May 1961 Freedom Rides.
The Culture & Heritage Museums and Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte have coordinated the events in our area. Read more…