Tuesday, May 10, 2011

We Can All Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Rides & the Freedom Riders!

This month is the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides. A protest by young college students, black and white, dramatize the inhumanity and injustice of segregation in public transportation in the south. PBS' upcoming series on this episode in American life "Freedom Riders" will be shown May 16.

The Civil Rights Era changed both American history but the history of the world. Human Rights victories from Poland to China to Africa have been won with the refrain 'We Shall Overcome' rippling through the air. It was an anthem that announced impeding freedom from political bondage in much the same way that it served as the musical score for the fight for justice and inequality in our country.

Many who have difficulty in recognizing the fact that this fight has not concluded, delusionally try and revise history for their comfort, either sanitizing the role of race in our country's past ('...you know the Civil War wasn't really about slavery...'). Or they attempt to deny the role of brave men and women who put their lives on the line to shock awake this country's conscious ('...white people don't get enough credit for giving black people their freedom...').

Then there are those who would like to forget this period altogether ('...why do we have to dwell on that. It was such a long time ago?') Of course, interestingly enough, we don't want to forget about the World Wars in which we've fought, the Revolutionary War, or any other part of American history!

We, of course, can't let it die. We should remember this era, because, not only are some of the struggles still with us, but the people who fought those battles are still with us. This is the case with the Freedom Riders. They are men and women (some of whom I've known personally), who sacrificed their lives to dramatize the corrupt and evil nature of segregation and immorality of the segregationists.

Starting out in Washington D.C. on an intercontinental bus trip with integrated passengers sitting in randomly throughout the bus. These young people set out to ride throughout the south to test our nation's Jim Crow laws. It was a dangerous proposition, that resulted in life threatening injury and brutish imprisonment.

But the initial ride, stopped by brutal violence in Anniston, Alabama and the ensuing rides throughout 'Freedom Summer' were the beginning of the transformation of the south and eventually the country.

"Fifty years ago, the sacrifice was unambiguous. Forcing integration on the South meant putting your body on the line. It meant buying a bus ticket down to Jackson after hearing about the bus firebombed in Anniston and the men and women beaten in Birmingham and Montgomery."

"“You never knew what was going to happen,” Thomas said, remembering the anxiety of the times."

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