Freedom Riders Reunion
This past week a group of Freedom Riders reunited for the 50th anniversary of their challenge to the Jim Crow laws in the Southern United States. I became aware of the Civil Rights struggle as a result of these dramatic events. From Canada, many watched with interest. Some even found their way to the US to directly participate in civil rights demonstrations.
(If you want to follow the events of the reunion meeting in Jackson Mississippi you can watch a video here . )
African Canadians, were inspired to demand more fully their rights and challenge discrimination in their communities. There roots ran deep in American as many came to Canada prior of the Civil War, via the Underground Railroad. They stayed in Canada while many of their friends and relatives returned to the United States full of hope of change during Reconstruction. Little did they know their lot would be worse before it got better 100 years after the Emancipation.
For me this was the beginning of my religious convictions of pacifism and the power of civil disobedience and direct action as a political strategy to changed laws. I had decided that there were things worth dying for in a struggle which did not require you to kill others.
It is inspiring to seen students and other using non-violence against violence in Arab states: Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Bahrain in particular. By confronting the evil of violence they have lost their fear. Some have died of their convictions but others continue to be inspired by their example. Such was the model of Gandhi, Martin Luther King and others.
The bus of one of the first groups of black and white students trying to desegregate the interstate bus facilities in the South. It was set on fire by the KKK outside of Anniston, Alabama.
The other bus came under attack in Birmingham, Al.
(click on photo to enlarge)
The routes of the Freedom Rides
The video below was made a few years ago when a group of college students followed the route of the Freedom Ride in an attempt to understand it's significance. It is worth watching to remind us of a time past and the progress that was made as a result of the courage of a few, who believe in non-violence and who where called to accept the risk of their lives to achieve, equality and justice.
I am surprised that this 50 Anniversary of the Freedom Riders was not a widely celebrated event in the United States. It did make the news on some networks but it is fascinating to me that the best article I read on it was one in the British Manchester Guardian newspaper.
During the time of the Reunion President Obama was seeking his Irish roots, which he only knew about because of some dogged geneologists. While he is an American of African heritage he certainly is not an African American with deep roots in the American historical experience.
Otherwise, he would have been present at this event in Jackson Mississippi.
At a time in the United States, where there are some efforts to roll back some of the gains of the civil right struggle, it is important to remember those dramatic events of the 60's. I was surprised to learn that this history has not been taught in the schools in Mississippi until recently. It makes me wonder how well history is taught throughout the country. I know Canadian history is very badly taught in Canada but when I went to school it was given less time that American and British history. Only by knowing the history of one's country can one be an effective and intelligent citizen.
I shall always remember the lessons of American history I have learned and partly lived through in the civil rights era. I continue to study it and try to understand it's significance for then and now.
These days I am thinking of my black seminary friend, Johnny, who lived through the early civil rights struggle in his home town of Jackson, Mississippi. His minister and Mentor was shot and almost killed for his stand on civil rights in that community. He was inspired to go into the Unitarian ministry. His minister saw that he got to Boston to study.
I recently, located Johnny living in Durham, NC. One of these day I hope we may get together again and remember our years together in Boston. I know the history of the Freedom Riders and the struggle for civil rights were part of a reality that shaped his life.