Posts Tagged ‘ Washington DC ’
By Benjameen Quarless
While I was walking at night in Washington, D.C., it upset me that so much poverty can exist in the epicenter of American justice and equality. I live in the east side of Tacoma, which has a reputation for vagrants but it could not compare to the situation in D.C. On almost every corner and crevice there was an African American asleep among felt blankets and newspapers. Furthermore, all of this is going on within sight of the White House and other buildings that embody life, liberty and happiness.
After exiting a restaurant, I saw a person in need and offered them some of the change from my dinner. It was not much, but I thought the few dollars could help this person out. It struck me when this African American woman, sitting on a stack of old newspapers, in a nook between two buildings, said something simple yet profound to me. She looked me right in my eye and with a proud and confident voice said, “I need help but not from you, no thank-you.” Although her living situation could obviously be improved, she was not willing to accept my gesture of kindness.
To me, this shows that the American dream has failed a segment of our society. On one hand, I admire this woman for her resolve to fend for herself in a society that has pushed her to the margins. However, my heart bleeds for her because she is forced to choose between improving her circumstances and keeping her personal dignity intact.
My first night in Washington, D.C. was a sobering experience; sobering in the sense that I learned a truth that was difficult to process, but also in the sense that I have come to see reality with a less clouded lens. Television and media paint a picture of the world that does not include everyone’s narrative, like the women who slept among molding newspapers. I felt like it is our responsibility as her fellow neighbors and citizens to include her story in the American narrative.
The American experience is not an ideal. There are people who live on the margins of society who are not in the thoughts of the collective American experience. Hopefully, this journey with the Freedom Riders will highlight the untold and hidden story of the 1961 Freedom Ride and broader struggle for civil rights, but more then that I hope that discourse can breathe equality into the shadowy and newspaper filled building nooks all across America.
“Why did you do it?”
“For those that were unborn. For you. Because even though you weren’t born yet, we loved you and we wanted a better world for you.”
Diane Nash spoke these words to us on our first day at the Newseum in Washington, DC. We had just finished watching the beautiful documentary Freedom Riders by Stanley Nelson, and we were now listening to a panel discussion on the movie and the emotions behind the Rides. When Nash said that she was part of the movement because of love, my heart skipped a beat.
Regardless of one’s faith or beliefs, Jesus the historical figure was a man who strived for social justice. He was the ultimate revolutionary. In reaching out to the marginalized and rebuking the oppressors, he exemplified what it means to truly love other human beings and to respect the dignity of the human person. I strive to follow in this example of love, and it motivates much of my outlook and the social change that I seek. In my introductory video, I said that I thought love was what was behind the civil rights movement. In my opinion, when people approach service and social change with the right intentions, love is always behind it – whether one is conscious of it or not.
What else would sustain someone taking a beating in hope that it will change the status quo for someone else they’ve never met? It doesn’t matter what God you believe in or don’t believe in – there were Freedom Riders of all religious and non-religious backgrounds. It doesn’t matter what the color of your skin is – there were lots of white Freedom Riders as well. And as Diane Nash proves, it doesn’t matter whether or not you will live to see the person you’re impacting. All that matters is that you share a common humanity, and the innate ability to have compassion can drive you to develop an eye for and a love of that common humanity.
So often today, I see people separating themselves and building walls because they perceive others to be different. We see it in our airports during the “random” security checks, we see it in Arizona with the dehumanization of people born a couple miles across an artificial border, and we see it on the news and in our communities when people celebrate the death of a human being. It’s hard to remember, but we need to try and remind ourselves that we share a common humanity. We need to strive to follow the examples of people who love fiercely and indiscriminately – people like the Freedom Riders and Diane Nash. Or if you can identify, people like Jesus.
Thanks for reading,
By Lu-Anne Haukaas Lopez
We walked past the man under the padding. Walked past the bench bed, the carpet coverlet. We walked past singing, cheering. We were the Freedom Riders, and he had picked the wrong corner to sleep on, the wrong bench to wake on. This morning would be no different for him — rousing to the roll and rush of traffic, the glow and gold of a D.C. morning sun. No different except for the sea of hope and faces, the force and click of cameras, the rise and ring of Ray’s story telling voice — the voices, our voices, the singing. We walked past him and drove away. The South was waiting. Celebration 50 years in the making was waiting. But I couldn’t help wonder as we left him, his bench bed, his carpeted curb: What about him? What about them? What about us?
Our days are filled with the gild and glory of the sacrifices of the past. No bars, no blows for us — the greatest discomfort is getting Wifi to work on the bus. Tonight I sit typing this, propped on my hotel bed, stacks of white towels at its foot. In our capital, he’s finding a bench. He’s pulling a carpet over his head. No songs, no freedom. In our capital, he sleeps.
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 1-May 8: Washington to Lynchburg,VA
Glorious first day. Student riders are a marvel–bright and engaged. Began with group photo in front of old Greyhound station in DC, where the 1961 Freedom Ride originated. On to Fredericksburg and a warm welcome at the University of Mary Washington, where James Farmer spent his last 14 years. One of the student riders, Charles Reed is a UMW student. Second stop at Virginia Union in Richmond, where the 1961 Riders spent their first night. Greeted by VU Freedom Rider Reginald Green, charming man who as a young man sang doo-wop with his good friend Marvin Gaye. Third stop in Petersburg, where former Freedom Rider Dion Diamond and Petersburg native led a walking tour of a town suffering from urban blight; drove by Bethany Baptist, where the 1961 Riders held their first mass meeting. On to Farmville and the Robert Russa Moton Museum, formerly Moton High School, the site of the famous 1951 black student strike led by Barbara Johns; our student riders were spellbound by a panel discussion featuring 2 of the students involved in the 1951 strike and later in the struggle against Massive Resistance in Farmville and Prince Edward County, where white supremacist leaders closed the public schools from 1959 to 1964. On to Lynchburg, where the 1961 Freedom Riders spent their third night on the road and where we ended a long but fascinating first day. Heade for Danville, Greensboro, High Point, and Charlotte this morning. Buses are a rollin’!!!
Day 2-May 9: Lynchburg, VA, to Charlotte, NC
The second day of the Student Freedom Ride was full of surprises. We left Lynchburg early in the morning bound for Charlotte. We passed through Danville, once a major site of civil rights protests, where the 1961 Freedom Riders encountered their first opposition and experienced their first small victory–convincing a white station manager to relent and let three white Riders eat a “colored only” lunch counter.
Our first stop was in Greensboro, where we toured the new International Civil Rights museum, located in the famous Woolworth’s–site of the February 1, 1960 sit-in. This was my first visit to the museum, even though I was one of the historical consultants involved in planning the museum. We met the first black mayor of Greensboro, and I did a TV interview with the local PBS affiliate. The kids seemed to be deeply moved by the visit.
On to High Point, the scene of the first high school student sit-in in 1960 and the adopted home of Ben Cox, the original CORE Freedom Rider who organized the sit-in on February 11, 1960. Ben is a dear friend and the first Freedom Rider that I interviewed for my book in 2001. He is a local hero in High Point, where they now have a beautiful sculpted plaque marking the site of the Woolworth’s where the sit-in took place. Ben now lives in Jackson, TN, and is in very poor health, but his spirit and legacy lives on in High Point. Two of his sit-in kids from 1960–including a city councilwoman–met us at the Woolwoerth’s site and delivered a moving tribute to Ben. Very emotional moment for me and the student riders.
On to Charlotte, the site of the first arrest in 1961–the shoe-in by Joe Perkins at the Charlotte station that put him in jail for two nights. We had dinner at the Levine New South museum, then went across the street to the historic and beautiful First United Presbyterian Church, where a capacity crowd showed up to view a long clip from the American Experience film and to listen to a Freedom Riders panel discussion that I moderated. The highlight was a round of freedom songs led by Freedom Riders Rip Patton and Charles Jones, a Charlotte native who accompained William Sloane Coffin on the May 24, 1961 Freedom Ride to Montgomery. Meanwhile, the student riders were downstairs for a 2-hour intensive discussion of race in America, facilitated by William Smith, a Race Amity counselor and one of the first African Americans to play division I football at a predominantly white Southern school (Wake Forest) in the early 1960s. An added highlight for me–a reunion with one of my favorite and most talented students from the early 1980s–Shella Hollowell, whom I hadn’t seen in 25 years. She now lives near Charlotte and is a passionate student of civil rights and Southern history.
The only glitch in the day–the air conditioner on our freedom bus broke down between Greensboro and Charlotte, adding authenticity and a lot of sweat to our journey to the Deep South. This morning we are off to Rock Hill and Augusta, GA, where we will try to keep it cool!
By Doaa Dorgham
Fifty years ago the pivotal Freedom Ride movement began. The idea was simple: use nonviolence in order to eradicate the injustice of segregation by integrating public facilities such as public transportation. Yet as I embark on this journey, fifty years later, it is evident that racism is still alive and thriving in the United States.
I am a Muslim American and as such, flying in and out of airports is not always pleasant. As I entered the airport, with my suitcase and optimism, I instantly became aware of the stares and once again was subjected to yet another “random search.” After a thorough pat down, I made it through security and made my way to the gate.
As I began to take out Ray Arsenault’s book Freedom Riders, my attention was drawn to a woman wearing in a brightly colored dress, drenched in a flowery design. However, the situation was nowhere near flowery. She looked me straight in eye, with a look that could shake anyone to their core. My eyes remained persistent, locked with hers, in this glare of disapproval. I then looked at the woman and smiled. Suddenly I noticed the brief moment of shock in her eyes; her eyes then readjusted to the same of look of repugnance she exhibited earlier.
The irony of the situation is incredibly profound. Here I am about to partake in a journey that is celebrating the effectiveness of the Freedom Rides, yet I am in an airport facing animosity and discrimination. However, like the original Freedom Riders, I refuse to let these situations ruin my ideals and faith in social justice.
Today’s first lecture was from the famous activist Diane Nash. She eloquently articulated how citizens have an obligation to be actively engaged civically, and not merely vote every two years. She stated, “We loved you, even though we didn’t know you.” She then made it apparent that future generations will look at us, and ask what we have done for them.
Another point Nash made that clearly stuck out to me was the fact that you cannot change someone’s ideas, but you can change yourself. I believe the aforementioned statement is essential to any progressive movement. Although I cannot change people’s opinion of me as a Muslim American, I can refuse to become upset when faced with adversity, and use that power to become more proactive.
I sincerely believe that when one is faced with tremendous opportunity, it is selfish to not share such prized jewels with the rest of society. And as such, everything I learn on this incredible journey I will incorporate with “Wake Up! It’s Serious Campaign For Change” on my campus. The focus of the movement is to spur dialogue and initiate cohesion within the university as whole, addressing adversities of race, religion, and sexual orientation on campus and stopping intolerance in its tracks.
By William Dale
A spark. That’s all it takes. It takes a spark to start a bus, ignite a movement, to produce change. In the blazing summer of 1961, the Freedom Riders started that ignition, becoming a vehicle that drove the U.S. Civil Rights Movement to audiences across the world. Their mission: to fight segregation in inter-state travel in the deepest, darkest parts of the Deep South.
The Freedom Riders were extraordinary, ordinary people that faced extreme adversity and hardship. Over the past two days in D.C., I have met so many of these brave and heroic people. One rider, in particular, has been my hero ever since I learned of the Freedom Riders’ struggle. Her name is Diane Nash.
In our conversation with Nash, she explained Gandhi’s principles of non-violence. “Truth, love, and self-suffering…” she explained. “These principles were the basis of the Freedom Rides.” The journey towards truth is essential in the fight for freedom and justice, Nash said, and the search for truth influenced every decision she made during the summer of 1961. Nash’s second principle of love lays out the core of the non-violent movement. She loved her fellow riders, and she cared for their white, southern attackers. Nash cared for them so much that she wanted them to right their wrongs and carry out peace.
But it is the final principle of self-suffering that stuck out to me the most. The Freedom Riders were attacked by mobs, and their buses were firebombed. They risked their lives and signed their last will and testaments before “getting on the bus.” News of the treacherous rides traveled across the world, shining a spotlight onto the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.
Their dedication to the cause, however, makes me wonder if my generation has this same passion and commitment. I have never seen my peers physically fighting off their oppressors. I have never run for my life off of a burning bus, and I am not risking my life by posting my opinion on this blog. Things have changed.
Fifty years after the original Rides, the state of social activism and civic engagement has evolved, primarily through the social media boom. Engagement and social media are two streams that constantly intersect. You can connect to millions of people on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. The traditional activist is now fighting for change and justice on the web. Two questions, however, still bother me: “How will this change in activism affect the basic principles of truth, love, and self-suffering? Would our generation be able to ‘get on the bus?” These are the questions I hope to find answers to on the Student Freedom Ride, and in these answers, I hope to find my inspiration to ignite a new “spark.”
By Peter Davis
On the first official day of our Student Freedom Ride, my fellow 39 riders and I heard three talks at the Newseum. In the morning, it was an honor to hear Diane Nash — the legendary leader of the second wave of Freedom Riders — discuss why she participated in the Civil Rights Movement and challenge us to participate in non-violent direct action of our own. In the afternoon, we listened to Stanley Nelson — award-winning director of the Freedom Riders documentary that inspired our trip — describe how to bring history to life through engaging filmmaking. To end the day, we heard Jalaya Liles Dunn challenge us to find the stories that will be the ingredients of our generation’s movement: our story of self, our story of us, and our story of now.
What struck me about the three talks is that all touched on the poetic side of movements: the importance of words, of narratives, of stories in building energy to sustain a collective effort. Nash started her talk with an insightful analogy. “When scientific inventions arise, we need new words to describe them,” she explained, citing how electricity made the words ‘volts’ and ‘charge’ arise. “Likewise,” she continued, “when social inventions take pace, we need words to express them.” She then went on to describe how the Civil Rights Movement needed a new word to describe the power that the movement’s fighters used to wage war on segregation. They chose “Agapic Energy”— a phrase deriving from the agape, the Greek word for ‘brotherly love.’ Indeed, Civil Rights movers and shakers did not only use sit-ins, Freedom Rides, and marches as tools of change— they used language, too!
Later in the day, Stanley Nelson discussed how a good narrative makes a good documentary film, reminding us that you need to make viewers latch on to the stories, characters, and emotions of a piece of media if you want them to care about it. Appropriately, Jalaya Liles Dunn echoed this emphasis on narrative in her talk about how organizing begins with engaging stories— the stories of why the individuals involved in a cause became involved, the stories of the group’s shared values, and the stories of why their cause is urgent. As I reflected on these calls to new words, to engaging narratives, and to unifying stories with my fellow Student Riders late into the evening, it hit me: the movements of the future cannot survive solely on organizers…they might just need poets as well!
By Samantha Williams
The day before the original Freedom Riders departed Washington D.C. for the first ride in 1961, they came together in what was half-jokingly referred to as the “last supper.” They settled on Chinese food — unfamiliar cuisine to a then 19-year-old John Lewis. I say “half-jokingly” because, though they hoped for the best, they knew that the consequences of their impending ride could potentially lead to death. Their lives were on the line, and they had spent months preparing for this nonviolent movement to eradicate segregation in the South.
Tonight, as I sat amongst my fellow student riders and Ray Arsenault (the author of Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice) eating Chinese food just as the Freedom Riders had done, I began to understand the weight of the situation. The journey that began 50 years ago at a Greyhound bus station in D.C. will continue tomorrow from the very same place.
Earlier this afternoon, Jalaya Liles Dunn from the Children’s Defense Fund gave an incredible presentation about “charting the next route for freedom and justice.” As she outlined the ways in which we can improve our communities, she emphasized the importance of understanding ourselves, engaging others who share a common thread, and creating “the story of now.”
The Freedom Riders “had a story of self and built themselves into a story of we,” she said.
“They created the story of ‘now,’” added Peter Davis, a student rider from Cambridge, Mass. On May 17 when the bus is emptied and we go our separate ways, we cannot forget the importance of writing our own story of ‘now.’ As individuals we are weak, but together there is no stopping us.
It cannot be done alone and it certainly can’t be done with just 40 students. It will take an entire movement of young people to become civically engaged and respond to the pressing issues facing our generation. Whether it is racism or other forms of intolerance, education or foreign policy — there are a number of issues that directly affect each of our lives and they will not be corrected if we continue sitting by, apathetically waiting for someone else to fix the problem.
Diane Nash eloquently said, “You have no control until you exert control.” She’s right — our voices will not be heard until we turn up the volume.