The Monograph, the Documentary, the Story by Trichia Bravi

  Raymond Arsenault’s Freedom Riders gives an extensive account of the Freedom Rides of 1961 within the context of the Civil Rights Movement. Reading the monograph and watching the documentary film helped bring the actions of the freedom riders to life. Sometimes the human aspects of the past are lost in the study of history.Hearing individual stories from the riders themselves makes the experience more real and personal for those who study this information in the twenty-first century.

After finishing the book, I want to read the unabridged version so that I can learn more about the courageous individuals who participated in the rides. When the Civil Rights Movement comes up, most people immediately think of Martin Luther King Jr. However, despite everything King did for the movement, so many other people deserve credit for

North Carolina A&T University Sit-In in Greensboro, North Carolina

their brave acts. Even though none of the freedom riders were seeking fame or trying to become martyrs, it does not mean that history should not recognize them. The freedom riders were just as brave as those who participated in sit-ins, jail-ins, and the many marches of the 1960s, yet many of these people seem anonymous and unknown.

In the eyes of many, King was responsible for the successes of the Civil Rights Movement. However, historian Raymond Arsenault notes that initially King did not  support the freedom riders. It was not until the rides began to garner national attention and violent reactions that some movement leaders started to voice unified support. King’s refusal to participate in any freedom rides upset many riders, but was best since his presence on a bus would have incited more violence and turmoil in cities like Birmingham and Montgomery. I understand the desire to have the iconic Dr. King on the trip to give the rides gravitas in the eyes of the public and other activists who were skeptical.

According to Arsenault, King had little to do with the Freedom Rides. I find it most impressive that men and women my age (and even a few years younger, in some cases)

Diane Nash

took this terrifying yet crucial movement into their own hands. For Attorney General Robert Kennedy to ask “who the hell is Diane Nash” is simply incredible to me. Nash not only organized and motivated fellow students and activists in the Nashville Movement, she also managed to anger the Attorney General of the United States prior to the age of the internet—this seems like quite the feat for a young, college woman.

Freedom Riders is a magnificent book that includes individual accounts of riders, reactions from the Kennedys, and descriptions of the vast southern opposition, all while noting this troublesome history in the context of the Cold War. While the corresponding documentary film evoked an emotional reaction in me, the book certainly did as well. A monograph must be written incredibly well  in order to make someone want to yell, cry, act, and read again, and Arsenault made me feel more than I could describe.

Freedom Riders by Maggie Gray

The Freedom Riders documentary was a very emotional film for me. After reading Ray Arsenault’s book and seeing some other documentary footage I had not expected to be as affected by this film as I was. It was astonishing, most of all, to see Governor John Patterson speaking in 2012. From what he said, it did not appear that in the 50 years that passed, his strictly segregationist views had changed. He was in no way apologetic or remorseful for the atrocious things that he said and did in 1960 and 1961 during the Freedom Rides. While it is essential to understand the opposition to the movement, I was very uncomfortable seeing him talk so many years later with the same views.

Although some parts were emotional and made me uncomfortable, the film overall was extremely informative and full of valuable footage. I especially liked that almost all of the riders were interviewed. Hearing from Jim Zwerg as an older man was powerful, because his speech from his hospital bed after being brutally beaten was so crucial to the publicity of the movement. It was interesting to hear each of their different stories, not just the very famous ones like John Lewis and Diane Nash. Some of the other interviews that most stood out to me were those with the residents of the towns that the Freedom Riders visited. When I read Arsenault’s Freedom Riders, the bravery of Janie Forsyth struck me. At only 12 years old, she was not afraid to reach out to

Janie Forsyth McKinney

help the Riders amongst a group of Klan members, including her father. Watching her speak about that experience in the documentary was even more striking. The Riders experienced violence firsthand in Anniston, but Janie saw it all happen from an outside perspective. She had a much more emotional reaction, because she saw the entire scene unfold, rather than being caught up in it. Her description of the bus bombing as “a scene from hell” reminded me of the humanity of the movement. Imagining being a 12 year who saw a bus full of people bombed and brutalized made it impossible for me to separate emotion from the struggle for civil rights.

After our class discussion on Monday about naiveté in the movement, I realized that the documentary also demonstrated this. Most of the Riders spoke of not really being afraid both before the rides began and in retrospect. They expected minimal resistance, not nearly the level of violence that they encountered. This demonstrates that they were indeed naïve to think that they could so easily integrate the Deep South. However, I think this naiveté was important to the motivation to start the movement. If they knew what they were facing, some may have been too afraid to set out on their journey. It is also important to note that this naïveté was more in the beginning of the movement that at any other point. After they experienced violence, they did not stop. They still believed in their cause, to the extent that they were willing to die for it even after some had been severely injured. They saw that death was a real possibility and did not shy away from it. Some may say that this demonstrates a different kind of naïveté, but I think it is respectable that they were so dedicated to their cause. In some cases, being naive may be necessary to be successful.

A Word From Professor DeLaney

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Professor Ted DeLaney and Student Trichia Bravi in Selma, Alabama

One of the most impressive parts of this course is the stop in Selma, Alabama.  This time we did far more than walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and visit the two Voting Rights Museums. We remained in the city more than two full days.  We lodged at the historic St. James Hotel that is owned and operated by the city; attended church services at the Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church; enjoyed Sunday lunch at the Wallace Community College; dined at El Ranchero Restaurant, Side Porch Sandwiches, and had breakfast one morning at the St. James Hotel, and another morning at The Coffee Shop.

Selma is an important but sad place! It is a small, rural city located on the Alabama River.  Once upon a time it was beautiful and prosperous. Now it struggles to survive.  Its appearance suffers severely from deferred maintenance. There is, however, a hint of Selma’s former beauty, but only a passing one. The St. James Hotel is a telling place.  The lobby area is still exquisite – it is neat and the furniture is attractive. The nice lady at the check in desk could not supply me with itemized receipts because their printer was broken, but she did send them by email.  At one point I noticed one of my students walking through the lobby carrying a ladder.  He had informed the front desk that the smoke alarm in his room was beeping.  No maintenance man was on duty, so the check-in clerk supplied him with a couple of batteries and the ladder. My room was too cold and the bed quilt too heavy.  So I slept in my clothes and a light weight jacket two nights.Please do not read this as a complaint.  The hotel is lovely in many ways! The bedroom furniture looks like antiques and is truly beautiful. The hotel needs lots of work, and the city may not have sufficient resources to improve it.

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Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church

We spent two days in Selma to learn about the city’s history since the 1965 Voting Rights March, and learn we did. The trip entailed lots of new experiences for all of us. The Sunday worship service at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church was wonderful.  Pastor Leodis Strong delivered a scholarly and moving sermon. Unfortunately, most of the pews were empty, but we took note of this congregation and its talented pastor. The church is one of the most attractive buildings in Selma and probably was not pictured in the last year’s popular movie because of its outdoor shrine to Dr. Martin Luther King and its commemorative display.

Selma, the so-called Queen City, organized in 1819 and became a center for cotton production. Traders brought large numbers of enslaved people into Selma where they were sold at auction along the Alabama River. Surrounding Dallas County was the site of lucrative cotton plantations.During the national sectional crisis, one native son, William Rufus DeVane King became Vice-President of the United States but died five weeks later of pneumonia.  In spite of its rich nineteenth century history, Selma’s greatest notoriety resulted from resistance to black voter registration during the twentieth century.

Bernard and Colia Lafayette, members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, arrived in Selma in 1963 to begin a black voter registration project. They enlisted the assistance of local black leaders and soon butted heads with Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark and his volunteer deputies. Opposition to black voting was fierce, and two years later the situation remained unchanged. The violent clash between Alabama police officers and Voting Rights marchers on  Bloody Sunday (7 March 19650) changed Selma forever.  Televised violence garnered widespread sympathy and resulted in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

 

Mayor Joe Smitherman

In 1964, Selma elected ardent segregationist Joseph Smitherman as mayor.  His service would span more than thirty-five years, a period that included Bloody Sunday and a personal transformation that allowed him to retain office with the assistance of black voters. James Perkins, Jr. defeated him in the year 2000 and became Selma’s first black mayor.  Eight years later George Evans succeeded Perkins.  Since 2000, local mills have closed, and there has been massive white flight. Selma is now about 80 percent black and very poor.  Perkins and Evans are once again involved in a contest for mayor, but this time the race includes a young, well-educated, black female candidate named Jerria Martin.  No matter who wins, the challenge of reviving Selma is enormous. After more than five years of visiting Selma, I have witnessed steady decline.  Perhaps Perkins and Evans should pass the torch to a new generation and permit Martin to determine a new path for this once lovely city.

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Candidate for Mayor Jerria Martin talks with W&L students, May 2, 2016

Former Mayor James Perkins, Jr.

Mayor George Evans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom Riders by Riley Ries

Anniston Bus Burning

On May 14, 1961 the Freedom Riders made their way through Anniston, Alabama, where they were met with unprecedented violence by a mob of Ku Klux Klan members. Pictured above is the bus the Riders took to Anniston, which was demobilized and subsequently set ablaze with the Riders, and other unaffiliated passengers inside.

During the first year of my college career, many of my classes required outside of class time reading that we then deliberated in class discussions. Readings are a tool used by almost all teachers and professors, especially in the humanities, as scholarly works, particularly those base off of primary source evidence, provide strong insights into the topics at hand. In addition to readings, films and videos are also often times used in classrooms. The problem with films and videos, however, is that they can easily turn into time fillers that detract from potentially more productive discussion or lecture. Documentary film, though, especially when it incorporates a large amount of primary source material, such as recordings, pictures, and interviews, can be a very valuable resource for students and professors alike. Raymond Arsenault’s book Freedom Riders and the film which is based on the book are both extremely good sources for individuals who are studying the Civil Rights Movement. In his book, Arsenault does a superb job of presenting primary source evidence, such as excerpts from letters and speeches and information given in interviews with civil rights leaders, Freedom Riders, and government officials, to paint for his readers a picture of what the Civil Rights Movement looked like at the front and behind the scenes. In addition, the author provided powerful insight into the thoughts of the Kennedy brothers and the reasoning behind their decisions regarding the desegregation of public transportation. Overall, Arsenault’s book provides readers with a factual, argumentative, and emotionally effective description of the Freedom Ride Movement and makes one wonder why it took so much time and so much violence to bring an end to segregation on buses and in American society at large. The film iteration of Freedom Riders, while equally as factual as Arsenault’s book, was, by virtue of it’s ability to show visual evidence of the atrocities committed by individuals, hate groups, and public officials, much more effective at invoking an emotional response to the stories of

Jim Zwerg

Pictured above is Jim Zwerg, a white Fisk University student who would become a symbol of the brutal actions taken against protestors by segregationists in the South.

the Freedom Riders. Footage and images of nonviolent protestors and reporters being brutally attacked by segregationists gives one a terrible feeling and forces one to question how a country which has always promoted democracy and equality for all could have possibly had such a dark history. However, the same images and footage also depict the heroism and undaunted courage of the Freedom Riders and give one a sense of pride in these brave activists. The print and film adaptations of Raymond Arsenault’s Freedom Riders are both superb resources for students studying the Civil Rights Movement and the emotional effect the two pieces have had on me is unchallenged by any other sources I have utilized in my study of the Civil Rights Movement.

 

 

 

Jim Crow and the Struggle for Freedom by Marquita Dunn

Jim Crow is the term for a system of oppression enforced by law, custom, and violence. Prior to the mid-twentieth century, the southern states stripped blacks of the right to vote, denied equal justice, and racially segregated public places. Blacks also lived in terror of lynch mobs and sexual assault. Such practices were tools for controlling blacks, and whites seldom, if ever, had to fear prosecution for committing such crimes.

Segregation successfully divided between the races, and created two distinctly different American experiences. African Americans built communities that drew strength from within. They fought white supremacy in a number of ways, in churches, schools and businesses and thru networks of friends and family. Black churches, fraternal orders and sisterhoods sheltered, supported and provided leaders to the struggle for freedom. They raised funds for self-help groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and political action groups that fostered voter registration and desegregation. The next generation was prepared to carry the torch of freedom.

The Freedom Riders were from all walks of life, races and nationalities. Included were college students, clergy from all denominations and leaders from groups such as the Congress for Racial Equality, Student Nonviolent Coordinating  Committee and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The Riders fought for desegregation of public transportation and facilities within the terminals. Other collegiate groups held sit ins at all white lunch counters, and fought for the right to vote in places like Albany, Georgia, Selma, Alabama, and the Mississippi Delta. They encountered resistance and brutal attacks by die hard segregationists, but not once did they retaliate with violence. Because of the determination and persistence of the Freedom Riders, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and other groups segregation ended.

On April 4, 1968 , the Freedom Riders and the Civil Rights Movement lost their most important leader. Martin Luther King was in Memphis to support striking sanitation workers, who were protesting unfair wages, unsafe conditions and unjust treatment they faced daily on the job. As Martin stepped onto the balcony at the Lorraine Motel, he was shot in the neck and collapsed. At the age of thirty nine, his life was cut short. Forty eight years later the struggle continues.

Thanks all of my predecessors for the sacrifices you made for equal justice in America. We as a nation still have work to do. Only when we are all treated as equals in this country can we say the struggle is over and our work is done.

 The March Continues

Tracking Hate by Trichia Bravi

Hate is not only a strong word; it is also a powerful emotion. Hatred has caused many acts of violence and contempt. During the 1961 Freedom Rides, the American Nazi Party drove from Arlington, Virginia to the Lower South in a hatebus2“hate bus” to assist the Ku Klux Klan by intimidating the Freedom Riders. Hate was prevalent during the Civil Rights Movement, but I would argue that people were far more fearful than hateful. People fear the unknown. Within the last five decades or so,  Americans have feared desegregation, miscegenation, communism, terrorism, and people who are different.  More recently, the most feared group are Muslims.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) formed in Montgomery, Alabama primarily to battle hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan.  Its museum exhibits the horrible results of fear and hatred. Too many people, as demonstrated by their Civil Rights Memorial, have suffered at the hands of hate and fear. People may say, “Well the Civil Rights Movement was fifty years ago, our society has moved passed that now.” Wrong! According to the SPLC, there were 892 active hate groups organized in the United States in 2015. Yes, Jim Crow segregation is not as explicit anymore, but hatred remains a problem as demonstrated by 190 separate KKK groups that are active more than 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement. The hatred is not limited to blacks, however. No one is protected from hatred. SPLC_NeoNazi_02There are neo-Nazis, neo-confederates, anti-LGBT, extremist religious groups, black separatists, and many other hate groups scattered across the United States. As a country, we are at a point in history when hatred and fear are being exploited. The best example is Donald Trump’s campaign and the widespread support he has gained from hate groups, and their spokesmen like David Duke..

Cruz and Kasich have both halted their campaigns, and Trump is virtually guaranteed the Republican nomination. He has overcome a large obstacle on the road to the White House, and while many find it frightening, his success is deeply intriguing. In part, hate and fear fuels his campaign, yet he has unending support. As he said, he could go out onto the street, shoot and kill someone, and would not lose a single voter. However, I neither believe that every single person who supports Trump is a hateful person, nor do I believe his supporters are fearful and that Trump makes them feel safe.

I believe the same was true of  white southerners during the Civil Rights Movement. In 1961 Montgomery, not every person who supported segregation attacked Freedom Riders at the bus station.  Most people who supported segregation were afraid of change, miscegenation, and losing their white privilege. Segregation was normal and familiar to them, and it is understandable that they did not want to lose that. However, when fear turns into hate and hate turns into violence is when we should be worried.

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The “Hate Map” adapted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, tracking active hate groups by their location and the groups they hate

New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward by Marquita Dunn

LOWER9TH_MUSThe Lower Ninth Ward was a poor, mostly black neighborhood that Hurricane Katrina devastated, and its revitalization has been very slow. The ward lost  eighteen percent of its residents during the eighties. Poverty increased along with violence throughout the neighborhood, and city officials mostly ignored this. In 2004 the poverty rate was at twenty eight percent and eleven percent unemployment. Residents lobbied for better public school facilities, health clinics and protection against environmental hazards. The people of the Ninth Ward, however, refused to be forgotten. The neighborhood is fighting city officials and the national political powers to rebuild.

The landscape of New Orleans changed when the industrial canal divided the ward into two sections and cut off this neighborhood from the rest of the city. City officials  justified this decision by claiming the area was virtually uninhabited, but nearly 26,000 people-7%of the population of New Orleans lived in the Ninth Ward. This put the residents in a great risk of flooding.

On August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans with winds of 130 mph There were 1,836 total fatalities with over 1,000 in the Lower Ninth Ward. Homes were flooded for 23-29 days and damages totaled 84 billion dollars. Celebrities have built new homes for residents giving them hope that the Lower Ninth will rise again. Riding thru and seeing the devastation 11 years later and the conditions these people are living under makes you wonder if this is just a dream? I certainly hope not.

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Display panel in a Lower Ninth Ward Park at Deslondes and Roman Streets.