Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Musings About The Freedom Riders

Fifty years ago this month, black and white activists risked their lives by taking interstate buses and sitting where they wanted in them; they boarded them in Washington D.C. and went into the racially segregated South. The Freedom Riders were taught not to use violence to defend themselves before the trip began, and as a result made a significant impact on the early days of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. When I realized that it had been fifty years since the Freedom Rides, I made sure to watch television programs and read anything I could about them. I am impressed and humbled by the bravery and endurance of the civil rights activists who were beaten and almost killed by mobs in Birmingham, Anniston, and Montgomery Alabama. I also wonder about myself; if I was of age in 1961, would I have been inspired to become a Freedom Rider? Would I have had the fortitude to face the vengeance of the angry Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and other racists? Hearing the stories of the Freedom Riders, who recently commemorated their 50th anniversary with some college students by taking buses and re-tracing the same routes, reminds me of the human capacity of true greatness.

I would like to think I would join the cause, if I lived during this time, even though I would have been very frightened. The evils of racial segregation are intolerable to me, so I think this would have been a strong enough reason to overcome my fears. At the same time, I may have been dissuaded by my Mother’s feelings about my safety. Facing angry mobs of people and violence at their hands would change me forever, but perhaps this would be a good thing in the long run, especially in the years after the Civil Rights Movement. The bottom line is that I will never know what it was like for the Freedom Riders, but I can remember their struggles and triumphs.

Do you ever wonder what you would have done had you lived during the Freedom Rides, or other events like them?

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