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Riding to the Future on the Past

Recently I watched the documentary, Freedom Riders: American Experience. Freedom Rides started by CORE(Congress of Racial Equality) were designed to test the rules of racial segregation in the Deep South. Students were recruited to ride the buses. James Farmer who was the head of CORE did not ride with the students because of the death of his father at the start of the rides. Basically the Freedom Riders were children leading children to get adults to behave. As I watched the documentary, I wondered if we would once again have to rely on the children to show adults how to behave. There is much we can learn from the brave children who took the time in 1961 to become Freedom Riders.

The Freedom Rides took place long before I was born. This documentary was able to highlight a few things for me about that era. The first thing that came to my mind was how MLK Jr. and JFK did not deserve the shrines setup in many black homes to honor them. I remembered the clock my aunt had in her home that showed Jesus, MLK Jr., and JFK. Whereas Jesus turned over tables in the temple, JFK and MLK Jr. did not support the Freedom Rides. JFK ignored the abuse of rights of Blacks in the South and MLK Jr. was fearful to ride with the students. It was at the persistence of Bobby Kennedy that JFK made a move. It was the international press coverage of the beat downs of the Freedom Riders in Alabama that made MLK Jr. come out of hiding long enough to speak to the children. The second thing that came to mind was the reason there is still to this day distrust in the Black community of the police (Rodney King incident did not help heal the wounds) and the National Guard. The third thing that came to mind was “states’ rights”. I agree that states should have rights, however; when the rights of states prohibit a citizen from being able to engage in the pursuit of his/her happiness then it is time for the federal government to intercede. Although, those who have proposed recent immigration legislation in various states, may not wear sheets into the statehouses, their legislation is nothing more than a throwback to the days of the Freedom Rides.

It is confusing for people my age and younger to understand how Blacks fighting to free Europe from Hitler in 1940’s had no freedom back home in America in the 1960’s. In 1946 the federal courts had deemed the segregation of public transportation facilities to be unconstitutional ( Southern states insisting on “states rights” ignored the federal mandate. Today, in the South, I see immigration laws being put into place in spite of the laws being ruled unconstitutional by the federal courts. How funny the very people who insisted on reading the Constitution before the start of the new Congress are the very one who are now not willing to abide by it.

I am thankful that many who are shouting and ranting today about “the Mexicans”, “the Blacks”, States’ Rights” are not drawing mobs with pitch forks and tire irons seeking violence. As I watched the documentary I was struck by how free, Southern Whites felt to come out to attack Blacks. They came out with the blessing of the local authorities and federal employees living in the South. Another thing that became apparent to both my son and me was the local Blacks not stepping in to do a thing to support these students. He and I both had the same thought, WTF (no he did not say it). Our thought process is the reason Whites purchased guns and ammo after Obama was elected president of the United States. They were getting ready for a Black payback. I do not have any associates Black or White who have the money and time to stockpile weapons and ammo. We are too busy attempting to get gas money to get to work or trying to pay for our children to attend college. However, I will not stand by silently, waiting for Jesus or some other savior to come help children being beaten. I just do not spend my time preparing for war.

One thing the documentary did show was how a church was willing to be active in a movement, a community, and basically what amounts to political action. The church’s action only came after a second round of beat downs by a mob on the Freedom Riders. However, with history as a template you would think churches today would be moved to action to stop the current day attack on the rights of individuals. Yet many churches and church leaders refuse to take part in anything that remotely smells of politics. Somehow a vital resource to reach and to teach people about things applicable to their everyday life has become nullified. When people in America do not know about their rights as citizens then they become victims of the system. The documentary touches on just how the system can work to deprive citizens of their rights when it mentions the Mississippi leg of the Freedom Rides.

When the Riders got to Mississippi, the governor at the time, Ross Barnett, made sure no mobs where there to meet the people. He was able to get the KKK to stay home by promising to use the law to teach these “Riders” a lesson. He did not want Mississippi to be seen in international media as a thug state. Using a law in the state of Mississippi he was able to route the riders from the bus station to local jail to court to Parchman Penitentiary ( Leave it to Mississippi to elevate racism and hatred to a civilized level. The law that sent the riders to prison was refusing to obey the orders of the local police to move on from the “White Only” waiting room because their presence was a breach of the peace. Leave it to Mississippi to change the nation. Because of the legalized hate enacted by then Gov. Ross Barnett and agreed upon in a backroom deal by Bobby Kennedy, Mississippi became a focal point for the riders. Eventually Bobby Kennedy goes to the ICC to get it to override the segregation of interstate transportation. Mississippi managed to shame the nation by imprisoning 300 of the Freedom Riders in one of the harshest prisons in the nation. The ICC, on September 22, 1961, forced the desegregation of interstate transportation.

I am thankful for the Freedom Riders not because I can travel on a bus with a White person but because they showed how facing your fears can lead to freedom. In my view they gave to America the following:
• Removal of the myth that all White people are full of hate
• Removal of the myth that no White person would stand up for what is right
• Black people do have a right to expect to enjoy the civil liberties of this nation (
• Violence is not the only means to achieving ones goal of freedom
• Acceptance of unjust laws against any particular group should be tolerated

I watched this documentary with my son. I hope that as a reader of my blog you will take the time to watch the documentary. The documentary can be obtained at and can be discussed at under American Views. History is important. We should strive to learn from it rather than to repeat it. I look at the recent legislation designed to legalized hatred for those who come to America for a better life. We can not remain silent and we must not wait for the children to show to us the way.



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