Posts Tagged ‘ Virginia ’
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 John Walker
Today we found ourselves in the historic city of Petersburg, Va. Like many southern towns, it is much more famous for its history than its current state. When we came in, I strangely felt like I was back in Kentucky. There, off the side of the highway, was the long line of strip malls that make up that modern U.S. town. What 20 years ago they called progress is now just a sign of a dying community. Dion Diamond, original Freedom Rider from Petersburg, unexpectedly stopped our bus when he saw the Trailways Bus station was still there. His own amazement came to my attention. Are we that far removed from ourselves?
Dion had the bus pull over immediately and soon enough we were on an impromptu walking tour of downtown Petersburg. Within minutes of reaching the heart of downtown, the comments of fellow student riders came to my attention. Many of the riders who have never been to the South had no words to describe what they were seeing. There were boarded up windows in every other building, traffic was bare, and the nicest place downtown was the tiny diner that defines many similar towns. All I could do was try to explain to my new friends what happened to this town, just as Dion was doing. As I stood there describing the fate of this town there was a realization. I was describing the death of hundreds of communities across this country.
Many times I hear these towns described as dying, bombed out, or ghostly. I call them home. Others see the failure of a once thriving village. I see the broken promises of a lost generation. So the next time someone asks me if I will ever leave my home I can only answer truthfully. No. Here is where I take my stand. Whether it is the flooded out, gutted out, river towns or the blasted mountain hollows, this is where I plant my stake. There will be others to take the fight to the cities and I respect them for it. But mine is in the forests and by the streams, wherever they may be. Mine is in the towns where everyone knows your business. I don’t mind, because my business will be their wellbeing.
So in short conclusion I say it’s time to wake up these communities. They aren’t dying, just sleeping. And when they finally wake, just maybe America will take a long look at itself and say “Oh, there you are. Welcome back.”
By LeRoy Ford
When we think about the civil rights movement everyone thinks of Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks. But what about those who came before them and gave them the courage to stand up for civil rights? What about the young men and women that fought just as hard, if not harder, for us to have the freedoms we have today? What about the unsung heroes?
I found myself to be ashamed when we pulled into the town of Farmville, Virginia on Day 2 of the Student Freedom Ride. I was ashamed because I had no idea that I was pulling up to such an important part of history. It was a part of history that has directly impacted my life, yet I knew nothing about it. A young 16-year-old high school student changed history forever. This student, Barbara Johns, had more courage, bravery, and dedication than I could have ever had when I was 16. That she recognized that she and her classmates were being treated unfairly and stood up and did something about it speaks a lot.
She rallied her classmates to strike against the inequality of the black schools and the white schools. Just to think about how the schools decided to shut down for five years instead of integrate breaks my heart. But the dedication of Barbara Johns and her classmates changed history forever. This is one way the unsung heroes have changed the lives of you and me.
Now I can proudly say that I am no longer ashamed of the fact of not knowing, because now I know. I know that it took more than just the people we constantly hear about in history text and classes. It’s not just about the ones who have holidays in honor of their service. It’s more than just them. It’s about everyone who had the courage and dedication to stand up for what they believed in. These unsung heroes who paved the way for you and me deserve as much credit as those constantly in the spotlight. But I now understand that they didn’t do it for attention, fame, or praise; they did it because they wanted change and had the bravery to do so. I will forever be grateful for the unsung heroes!
By Jason McGaughey
This whole journey is only just emerging, but already my life has forever changed. Before I left for this trip I was warned not to let it radicalize me. The notion of such an idea I found rather insulting. Why should I fear the becoming of the self that I dream of being? Why should I fear the development of a community of struggle, even if our community only lasts for a short while? This is the sort of community that I have longed for— a community where I know that I can be free, a community of liberation.
I am simply not a man with eloquent enough words to truly describe what all of this has meant to me— to have the opportunity to learn firsthand from the Freedom Riders, a true community of liberation; to hear their testimony of the depth of brutality that they were up against, and their triumph through it all with the courage of nonviolence. It would be too easy for me to say that I would have gotten on the bus in ’61. It would be all too easy for me to say that I would have had the strength to confront such oppression with nonviolence. But the reality is that words are simply all too easy to say. To truly live out ones convictions has never been that easy. So all that I can say with any sense of honesty, any sense of integrity, is that if I were among the Freedom Riders in ’61 then I wish that I were the sort of human being that could muster that kind of courage, that kind of faith to have overcome my own fears and gotten on the bus. I can only hope that I would have had it within me, I will never know for sure.
Though I will never know if I would have had the strength to have gotten on the bus for the original Freedom Rides in ’61 I do know that I have had the courage to have gotten on the bus with the 2011 Student Freedom Riders. Admittedly we are not facing any oppression by taking this journey, but we are still a community of struggle. We are young people seeking to follow in the legacy of the Freedom Riders; we are seeking to acknowledge and confront the ways in which injustice and structural violence still plague our communities, our nation, and our world. We have each accepted the call in our own ways to fight for justice to aspire towards full liberation. This journey has only just begun, but already I have had so many beautiful conversations engaging fellow activists in dialogue about what wrongs must still be righted. We have the opportunity to learn and grow, to develop our own sense of the Beloved Community, to become filled with the Agapic Energy that Diane Nash talked to us about, and to become filled with that call to action that comes from the energy of love for humanity. I am forever grateful for this experience. I am forever grateful for this chance to become, this chance to transform, this chance to know that I have a place within the community of Liberation.
By Charles Reed Jr.
To begin our trip through the Deep South, the 2011 Student Freedom Ride embarked on a journey to Fredericksburg, Virginia—the first stop of the original 1961 Freedom Riders. As the bus was driving down Route 1, the exact path the original Riders took, it truly hit me about how much courage the Freedom Riders had. I experienced indescribable, overwhelming feelings when I thought about what it must have been like to travel that same route 50 years ago. It is unimaginable the thoughts that must have been running through their minds. The tenacity and motivation of the Freedom Riders is something that I greatly admire.
Not only was this part of the Ride significant because it marked my first journey through the Deep South, but it was also the first time I would revisit my alma mater of just one day (I was officially a graduate of the University of Mary Washington as of May 7). It was an unforgettable experience for me to receive my diploma today in front of my family, friends, and 39 of my new friends on this Ride.
UMW has played an important role in my life, but it was also an aspect of the Freedom Rides being that it was James Farmer’s home for 13 years where he taught as a Distinguished Professor of History and American Studies. The lessons I learned about Farmer regarding the way he used the philosophy of nonviolence to galvanize an army of nonviolent activists that fought against the Jim Crow laws of the South is knowledge that I deeply appreciate.
This brings me back to the first day of our 2011 Student Freedom Ride in which we had the opportunity to learn from a true American heroine, Diane Nash. Just like many of the original Freedom Riders I have met, she encouraged us in our workshop to pursue our dreams, discover our passions, and stand up for what we believe in.
These beginning moments of this historic journey have me feeling an enormous sense of honor. As an advocate for social justice and civil rights, I understand that my job of educating people about social issues such as the Freedom Rides is not over with, but instead it has just begun. It is my duty to encourage and help people become more socially aware. I have the power to affect many lives, and I want to assure myself that I do just that.
By Esther Kim
I’ve been thinking a lot about heroes lately.
I’ve been thinking about how heroes are brave in the face of adversity. How heroes make us feel safe. How heroes inspire us to think, act and see differently. How heroes make us want to be better people. But heroes are complex, flawed people, just like the rest of us. I would argue that the best superheroes are the ones with the most complicated histories. And the heroes we love the most are the ones we see ourselves reflected in. So why is it—for all the change we fight for, dream of, want to see in the future—that we we work so hard to keep the ideas of our heroes static, unchanging, frozen in time?
On this trip, I witnessed a hero show their humanity by sharing a controversial but honest opinion about immigration in the U.S. As I talked to my fellow riders in hopes of processing, I heard many different responses, ranging from disappointment and frustration to apathy and excuses. I kept hearing that it was the age of the person that formed their opinion, as if age and ideology are mutually exclusive. This is a dangerous excuse because it assumes that ideas and opinions can be controlled and that we can control how we’re affected by them. In fact, ideas do the exact opposite – they’re able to seep into our minds and are impossible to remove.
It’s a mixture of things that keep us from seeing our heroes as everyday people working in collectives to make change. Living in a world that can sometimes seem so ugly and hopeless and the ease with which violence, hatred and fear are used to oppress and maintain power is hard. The romanticized image of a hero helps us deal with the hard parts. But it also takes away that person’s ability to be flawed and our ability to separate the great work accomplished from the troubling beliefs that we need to be critical of.
Just because you admire someone doesn’t mean you must accept everything they say as truth. We as activists need to know the history of the Freedom Rides because the unheard alternative narratives empower us. But we also need to seek out and understand the experiences of other minoritized communities and movements. The world we live in isn’t just about us as people in the United States but as global citizens with a responsibility to see that our struggles aren’t our own, but all of ours.
By Samantha Williams
Walking off the bus to a roaring round of applause at Mary Washington University (UMW) today, I almost instantly understood the importance of community. As we approached the welcoming crowd we were greeted with smiles, kind words of encouragement and a genuine sense of joy that we were continuing the legacy of the Freedom Riders.
UMW has spent months preparing for the Student Freedom Ride, creating an exhibition, holding on campus events about the rides and heavily promoting Charles Reed, Jr. — a graduate of UMW as of today. The administration, faculty and student body made a concerted effort to promote both the work of the original riders and the next generation of student activists. They made myself and the other students feel like we were representing something bigger than ourselves.
As a young person attending college in a relatively small community (or at least what feels like a small town atmosphere), I have found that the same support I witnessed today at UMW is sometimes lacking in my own environment. That is not to say that civic engagement in not encouraged at my campus, but I do feel that there is always more that can be done. The Civil Rights Movement, African American history, and the significance of the Freedom Riders are topics that should serve as constant reminders of this country’s long struggle for equality.
Although institutionalized segregation ended many years ago, more subtle forms of segregation and discrimination still exist — a sentiment expressed by many original Riders on our trip. In Arkansas, there is a clear divide between black and white neighborhoods and schools as a direct result of years of social inequality. In most cases I don’t think it is intentional segregation, but rather acceptance of the status quo. However, I strongly believe that in order to transform our culture and create a more balanced economic system, we need to acknowledge as a community that we will no longer accept a way of life just because that’s the way it’s always been.
Sometimes all it takes to trigger action is a call to action. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the many issues going on in America and throughout the world, and when you feel alone in your desire to implement changes in your own community it makes it that much more difficult to feel empowered and initiate change. But when people come together to vocalize their needs and wants, and older generations show young people that they believe we really can do great things, the dynamic will slowly shift from apathy to activism.