WHY BLACK LIVES MATTER
THE FREEDOM RIDERS
I was only fourteen years old when this group of Blacks and Whites travelled from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans attempting to integrate public bus stations along the way. At the time, separate facilities for Blacks and Whites - waiting rooms, bathrooms, drinking fountains, lunch counters, theaters - existed throughout the South as a result of Jim Crow Laws that most southern states (the former Confederacy) and localities had enacted beginning around 1890 following the collapse of Reconstruction after the Civil War.
My grandparents had retired to Florida in 1957 and we travelled there each summer and spent a month visiting them and traveling throughout the South. Just a year before the 1961 Freedom Ride depicted in this film, I had conducted my own scientific experiment in order to discover what the differences were between the "White Only" and "Colored Only" facilities we happened to pass along the way. As a thirteen year old I figured that I wasn't going to be beat up or shot - I might have been naive about this - and I was lucky. Nothing untoward happened to me although I did get yelled at by a couple of "good old boys" who saw me using a "Colored" drinking fountain or emerging from a "Colored" bathroom.
The results of my small scale scientific experiment? Well, often the separate drinking fountains were next to each other and the water from each tasted exactly the same. The bathrooms? Rarely were the Black and White bathrooms next to each other. Most often the "Colored Only" toilets were "out back" where you had to go around the building rather than access them from inside. Unlike the drinking fountains, there were significant differences between the separate bathrooms. In general the "Colored" bathrooms weren't clean, often didn't have working fixtures, rarely had any lights and were generally not a venue that one would willingly patronize. So much for "Separate But Equal."
The 1961 Freedom Ride in this film was covered extensively in the press and on television. It was the dawn of the Kennedy Era and change was in the air.
A couple of years later a neighbor of mine volunteered for a Voter Registration drive down in Mississippi to register Black men and woman who, during Reconstruction following the Civil War, had won the right to vote but had lost this right as Jim Crow laws spread across the South. Like the Freedom Riders, she too met violence down South that summer. It was the same voter registration drive where James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippisi in the summer of 1964.
So, you can ignore America's past but if you do than you will not know that living in America today is often a very different experience if you are Black than if you are White.
When you hear the chants and protests of the Black Lives Matter folks in the news, when another Ferguson explodes in violence, or when another unarmed Black citizen gets shot by the police, know that there is a reason why African Americans feel that there is a need for the Black Lives Matter protests: America's history.