On the first Thursday of May in 1961, the wheels of justice began rolling in what would change this country forever. Unfamiliar with this date, and it’s significance? To enlighten you – on this day in history, thirteen women and men boarded Greyhound and Trailways buses in Washington, D.C. headed south in a movement called Freedom Riders. The plan involved traveling through Virginia, North and South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi – ending the ride in New Orleans, Louisiana where they would participate in a civil rights gathering. Why all of this? The “Journey of Reconciliation” involved testing a Supreme Court ruling that banned racial discrimination in interstate travel such as “White only,” and “Colored only” signs on the road. I watched a Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) program documenting the activities of this event and went a step further by reading material in order to write a half-way intelligent article. I’d like to expound on this issue, if I may.
Let’s begin with a group of people brought to a place against their will. Regardless, they made the trip. Then, under penalty of death were made to tend fields, nurse and rear children, care for the house, and all the master’s belongings, including the remainder of his family. They had to build railroad lines, and God only knows what else. In short, they contributed to the building of this country. So, as I put myself in that place – I watch the train coming, knowing my great-great grandfather assisted in the construction of the railway, but I don’t have any joy or pride in my heart, because none of this helped me in any way. I fast-forward a century, stare in the mirror, and what catches my sight? Someone telling me I can ride on the train, but if I want lunch I must bring my own, because I’m not allowed in the dining room or at the lunch counter inside the station. Would that not light a fire in my soul to fight for definite change? It would most undoubtedly catapult me into action.
Now, the first poor souls making this trip had no idea what lay ahead – no idea that a government would allow a fifteen minute interval where getting off the bus would necessitate a trip to the emergency room. And, not even a visit done out of the goodness of another’s heart – no, they were taken to the hospital only after the onlookers were forced to do so. This, of course, puts the entire cause in a different perspective. I’m certain such incidents were discussed before making the journey, and I question myself. Would that have deterred me? Would I have made the trip anyway? And, as if the beatings were not enough, that same government that allowed this violence, permitted these Freedom Riders be taken off to a notorious penitentiary that had literal chain gangs.
I don’t know who is aware of this, but the Federal government in this country at the time pronounced these rides as unpatriotic – indicating that they embarrassed the country to the world. Excuse me? What is more important: racial equality and freedom or lying to make America look good on that world stage. Uh…I think I’m again hearing “the voice of Hitler,” where a country would remove all tell-tale signs of unrest in order to put on the Olympic Games. Then, immediately after everyone returned home, haul the signs back out. How ironic when a country declares “streets of gold:” even Russia referred to this country as a “Paradise of Freedom.” But, they called America a paradise, with tongue in cheek, because this had all been expressed over news footage of a people being placed in handcuffs, and loaded into paddy wagons, simply because they demanded fairness. In watching narratives from the original thirteen Freedom Riders, I listened to each one as they never regretted what they did, and what they accomplished. And, I would have loved to participate. How wonderful to walk around, being able to claim those bragging rights; not that they ever would.
So, tomorrow ends Black History Month for the year 2013, and this post concludes my Black History Month ranter. I hope I provided a sort of way to take a peek back, from a safe vantage point. Yet, at the same time refreshing memories – a way of remembering or paying homage, if you will. I definitely learned a couple things about myself. I finally realized that my passion for the Motherland burns deeper than before. When I think back to being told of that guardian angel (as I’ve mentioned before), attending the play Sarafina on Broadway, getting caught up in the hoopla of Mandela’s release and the parade through downtown Manhattan – it all makes me recognize how being African-American means an existence rich with history.
Oh, and the new history I learned involved a woman named Harriet Jacobs who got herself born into slavery in Edenton, North Carolina, which is only two short hours from Hampton Roads. She had a life similar to Anne Frank, only a century earlier, and she went on to author a book entitled, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.” This day trip has become a definite must do. When I make the trip, I’ll fill you in. Until next time.