Wednesday, May 25, 2011
"We did what all oppressed people have done throughout human history," says Hank Thomas, 70, a former Freedom Rider who was a Howard University student at the time. "You try to change things, and you pay a price for it. But you do what you have to do."
What they did was take a stand...Show America that young people could make a change in the world...Much like the young people in nations of the Middle East this past Arab Spring. I'm waiting for young people in the United States to have an "American Spring" If they can get their minds off Reality TV and Twitter perhaps!
So all of you youngins...check this out- About Fifty years ago this month, a group of 13 men and women, seven blacks and six whites, left Washington, D.C., on two buses bound for New Orleans.
They never made it. Ten days later, on May 14, 1961, one of the vehicles was attacked by a white mob in Anniston, Ala., the bus set on fire and the riders beaten up. The local police and state troopers made no effort to stop the violence, and the governor of the state, referring to the integrated group of passengers, sarcastically remarked that "you can't guarantee the safety of a fool."So typical of white southern attitudes in those days....
That same day, the other bus pulled into the terminal in Birmingham, Ala., where it was met by a mob of 1,000 people who proceeded to viciously beat the riders. But as Freedom Riders, a stunning two-hour documentary that was broadcast by PBS on May 16 at 9 p.m. (EST) demonstrates, these nonviolent activists never gave up -- and, in doing so, managed to effect real change. Take notes youngins...I'm thinking that maybe the young people in Egypt and Tunisia , who after all know more about American history than most Americans probably took notes.
Stanley Nelson, who wrote and directed the PBS documentary said- "[The riders] did not want to live, or their children to live, the way their parents had lived,These kids did not come out of nowhere. Every generation of African Americans had done what they could to move forward." I still have faith that this generation, when called will do the same.
Trained in the nonviolent techniques of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., the group was organized by the Congress of Racial Equality and included Stokely Carmichael and current U.S. Rep. John Lewis. They set out to test whether a Supreme Court decision mandating integrated facilities in interstate bus travel was actually being implemented south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
They had little trouble until they reached Alabama, which, along with Mississippi, was, says Nelson, something of a "no-fly zone" because of the level of violence directed against blacks. And in fact, some factions of the movement felt that what the riders were doing was a bit too confrontational and in-your-face, literally inviting aggressive reaction.
"Nonviolence by its very nature is confrontational," says Charles Person, 68, a former Morehouse College student who was the youngest of the first group of Freedom Riders on that trip. "You don't have a weapon, so you have to make [your opponents] feel uncomfortable."
They were brave enough. Even braver was the fact that after these buses were attacked, the freedom riders eventually found themselves stranded in Birmingham -- where the Greyhound company could not find a driver willing to (or foolish enough,depending on how you look at it.)to continue the trip -- Another wave of young Freedom Riders, based in Nashville, Tenn., and allied with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, decided to finish what the first group had started.
What ensued from that point on was a complicated social and political dance that involved the activists, the governors of Alabama and Mississippi and the Kennedy administration, which, more concerned with international affairs and how the nation was looking in the eyes of the rest of the so called "Free World", reluctantly stepped in when it realized that local authorities weren't going to do a damn thing to protect the Freedom Riders from KKK and their inspired mobs of " Christian White Citizens of the South."
Contrary to popular myth and belief, John and Bobby Kennedy were not then, the great civil rights heroes the way we think of them now , at least not at that time in history...But like a lot of well meaning White Americans...They saw the ugliness of Southern racism on their television screens in their living rooms and it had a huge effect on them.
In the words of one Freedom Rider -"They(The Kennedy Brothers) were dragged kicking and screaming into the conflict, and they changed; they became better persons because of it."
I think all Americans, Black and White became betters persons because of our civil rights movemant and these brave young people who were at the forefront. I was just being born around the time all of this was going down...I thank them for their sacrifice everyday...Because of them...I am!