Remembering Freedom Riders Helps Us Not Repeat The Past

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If you’re familiar with my blog, you know I have devoted it to sharing information and news that is uplifting. My goal is to give you reasons to smile and pass along more good things. But sometimes, in order to pass along good things, we have to be cognizant of the past. We have to have a willingness to stand up for our friends and our neighbors. We have to realize that our world is better, stronger only by opening our minds and hearts to the unique gifts each one of us has to share.

That’s why when Stephanie Creech at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center shared information with me about local students participating in a national Freedom Riders webcast, I knew that the topic was one we need to talk about.

Yes, the topic of racial injustice is very painful – just as is the topic of cultural and religious injustice such as the Holocaust – but only by educating ourselves and raising awareness can we be steadfast in not allowing history to repeat itself.

If you’re unfamiliar, Freedom Riders were a diverse group of more than 400 Americans who from May until November of 1961 rode south together on buses and trains, putting their lives and their freedom on the line. These brave men and women – blacks and whites, Jews and Christians – endured savage attacks and arrests to challenge segregation policies…often while officials did nothing. The Freedom Rides changed the civil rights movement and demonstrated the power of individual action to change the nation.

Remembering

Some 200 students from Middletown and Holmes High Schools were in the Freedom Center’s Harriet Tubman Theater to view the webcast. Afterward panelists, including several of the high school students and veteran Freedom Rider Thomas Armstrong, led an open dialogue. At the end of the program, all of the students, NURFC Director of Advancement Kim Robinson and Thomas joined hands and collectively sang “We Shall Over Come.”

When he was thanked for the role he played for changing American culture, Thomas looked into the eyes of the students and told them humbly, “I wouldn’t want to brag, of course, but I do believe we made a difference.”

For more information about the upcoming PBS documentary on the Freedom Riders, and a cross country Freedom Rider with students retracing the original 1961 rides, please click here.

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