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Welcome to Freedom Bound 2011

Best shot of all -- Ray's solidarity flame!

This is a chronicle of my adventures on the Constitutional Law and the Civil Rights Movement field trip. This is the second class I’ve taken about southern politics and one thing is for sure, if you want to understand southern politics, you have to understand the Civil Rights Movement. This is one option to fulfill the history requirement for the USF St. Petersburg’s Florida Studies Graduate program in which I am enrolled. I guess one of the first things anyone does on a field trip is get to know your fellow riders. So here are three other Florida Studies Grad students getting ready to board the flight to Nashville. Nashville is our first stop on the field trip and is the epicenter of the 1961 Freedom Riders Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Students from several colleges, but mostly Tennessee State, picked up the movement when CORE — the organization who organized the initial May rides, thought it was too dangerous and was about to abandon the cause. In fact, CORE, SNCC, NAACP, SCLC, all remained very active in the movement. This year is the 50th Anniversary and USF Florida Studies Professor Ray Arsenault, who wrote The Freedom Riders, is recognized as an authority on the movement. In May, Ray was interviewed by NPR, Terry Gross (Fresh Air) and Oprah, to name just a few, to commemorate the anniversary. Ray is leading 15 USF students on this tour. The tour is co-organized by the Stetson University College of Law Professor Robert Bickel. He is guiding 21 Stetson Students.

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Here we are --ready to board the plane to become outside agitators.

Dara Vance, Arielle Stevenson, and Theresa Collington are already blogging, or is that email

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Jon Tallon (L) and Daun Fletcher are veterans of the tours. Both are grad assistants

in the Florida Studies Program.

Why Nashville?

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June 4, 2011 Nashville

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Freedom Ride Leader Diane Nash attended Fisk University.

Our bus ride through the Deep South begins at sun up. So slap on the sunscreen and put on your sunglasses. We have a lot to see before sundown. We begin at the beginning: Nashville. One highlight of the trip is to meet as many of the original Freedom Riders as possible. When you look at the pictures it may seem to like I’ve avoided them. I haven’t: I had to sign a photo release saying I wouldn’t post pictures of the actual Freedom Riders on a blog or any other social media to protect their privacy. So if you’re curious as to why I don’t include the Freedom Riders, that’s why – remember, we are traveling with law students!   

Jim Lawson, a divinity student from Vanderbilt, spearheaded the movement. Jim was a Quaker and had gone to India to study Gandhi’s non-violent movement. Lawson inspired the students to have the courage to challenge the Jim Crow laws. Rip was one of the first students to join the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He was a rider and a runner. Runners kept the organizers informed when a group of students were arrested for crossing the color line (whites went into the black only section and blacks went into the white only areas). The idea was to provoke the police into calling a paddy wagon and arresting them all. The organizers sent wave after wave of students into department stores to sit at the lunch counters, stand at movie theaters and wait at bus stations. It was easy to literally fill the jails with people who had violated the Jim Crow laws. We spent this day touring important sites in Nashville.

Diane Nash

Many of the leaders of the movement were Fisk University students. Fisk was the elite private university for black students and one of the most vocal members of the movement was Fisk student Diane Nash. The public university where many other student activists attended college was Tennessee State University (TSU). Rip Patton was a TSU student and he was expelled along with all the other students from TSU, for participating in the movement.

"Rip" Patton, one of the original 1961 Freedom Riders leads us in a Freedom Song in this picture. Freedom songs were an important part of the movement.

What could be a more authentic and meaningful learning experience than fighting for rights that you know are your legal right? The organization and commitment that it took to keep this movement going for months was an amazing feat. Something like 25 TSU students never received their college diplomas because they were expelled. None of the Fisk students were expelled.

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Tennessee State University. This is were Rip Patton attended. It is within walking distance of Fisk.

The Burning Bus in Anniston

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NASHVILLE, TN to Anniston, AL

May 14th Mother’s Day — Anniston

Anniston, KKK fire bomb the bus.

This is the site of the famous Greyhound Bus carrying the Freedom Riders traveling from Nashville heading to Birmingham through Anniston. The bus was forced off the road and fire bombed. This captured the attention of the rest of the nation and exposed the extreme racism that existed in the south in 1961.

Believe it or not, no one was killed in this attack. But the KKK sure did try!

No one was killed, but the bus was burned to a mere shell.

The first time I saw this picture that I can remember was last semester in the Politics of the South class. I was shocked by this picture and couldn’t believe it had happened in 1961.  It made the politics of the south real for me. This scene was like something out of South Africa! Segregation in the south is apartheid.  This is the second attack on the Freedom Riders in Anniston. Klansmen attacked the Freedom Riders as the arrived at the Trailways Bus station in Anniston earlier in the day. (There were two rides that day. One on a Greyhound bus and the other on a Trailways bus).

June 5th: Memphis,

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June 5, 2011

MEMPHIS, TN –We’re here to tour the Lorrain Motel, the spot where MLK was assassinated April 4, 1968. The motel has been transformed into the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel.

King was staying here and on the day he was shot, and he had just received news that the court injunction preventing him from marching in Memphis in support of the sanitation workers – the beginning of his Poor People’s Campaign, had been lifted.

We were not allowed to take pictures in the museum. It’s too bad because there are many well-done displays and replicas that successfully recreate the march in Memphis. The museum is the Lorraine Motel. It gives a time line of the civil rights struggle in general and the days leading up to the sanitation workers strike on March 28th 1968, King’s assassination on April 4th, and much of the FBI evidence against James Earl Ray. Visitors can walk into the hotel room where King was staying and also to walk into the room where James Earl Ray stood at the bathroom window and fired the shots that killed King. I actually got goose bumps when I realized I was standing in the actual room. It was the one museum we had three hours to tour and it still wasn’t enough time. Sadly, I think this museum, tucked away in Memphis, is far better than the Atlanta MLK Center run by the National Park Service, surrounded by rose gardens, manicured lawns and crepe myrtle trees and MLK and Coretta Scott King tombs are surrounded by a long blue reflecting pool. More on that later.

Why Memphis?

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Background

“Our mission is to save the soul of America,”

On March 28th    1968, 5,000 people came out to support the sanitation workers strike. “Our mission is to save the soul of America,” King says in Memphis. The supporters were marching down Beale Street carrying sighs that read “I Am A Man” when about 200 youths began breaking windows and looting. Police responded by throwing tear gas into the crowd. MLK was shaken up and demoralized by the incident. The next day, marchers returned to Beale Street, this time accompanied by 3,800 National Guardsman in tanks equipped with machine guns – (shocking!).

Mayor Marshall Cato Ellis served King with a Federal Court Order restraining King from organizing another march planned for April 8th in Memphis.

After MLK was assinated on April 4th, Coretta Scott King lead a march through downtown Memphis on April 8th, the day the second sanitation strike was scheduled and 4 days after King was shot.

Once I learned the history behind the Civil Rights Movement, I realized that these events were not isolated incidents in the sense that in 1968 black people suddenly decided to rise up and fight for their rights.  The blast of protests beginning in 1961 was the explosion at the end of a 100-year fuse of anger.  The federal courts were not upholding African American’s civil rights guaranteed by the 14th and 15th Constitutional Amendments.  Jim Crow laws were alive and thriving in the Deep South until 1964. It was basically apartheid in the US.

A long day in Bombingham

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Bombingham, AL – We began this day with a driving tour of downtown Bombingham.  The city has rightfully earned this nickname.

The black neighborhood is in the middle of an industrial landscape.

The black/white  dividing line for this city was 17th Street.  The freedom of African Americans was restricted to areas below 17th street. The Church that was bombed is the 16th Street Baptist Church. This is the famous church where the four little girls died when a bomb exploded in the basement of the church. The girls were putting on their choir robes when the bomb exploded. The African American neighborhood is located in the center of the industrial area. Railroad tracks crisscross through coal yards. Birmingham steel manufacturing used to be the economic backbone of the city and it is known as the “Pittsburgh of the South.” Imagine living within a couple of blocks of a junk yard. This was the reality for the African Americans due to extreme poverty and racism. Because of the strict Jim Crow laws, even middle class black residents were forced to live in an industrial wasteland dotted with hills of coal and coke. Piles of coal still dot otherwise vacant lots all around.

Freedom Rider Catherine Burks-Brooks (the Freedom Rider with attitude)

Catherine-Burk Brooks went to prision four times for the cause.

She sat next to Eugene “Bull” Conner in the car as his driver drove the four Freedom Riders out of town. On the ride, she had a conversation with Bull about the Dixiecrats and invited him to have breakfast at FISK when they arrived in the morning. The vision of her having a political conversation with “Bull” is as frightening as it is funny. She actually fell asleep on the way. When he left them off in the middle of the night at the Mississippi state line, she is the one who told Bull that she would be back in Bombingham by high noon.

The historic district is just a few blocks from the industrial/black residential area

Dynamite Hill”

The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church is the site where the four little girls died after the church was bombed.  Learning the history of Civil Rights Movement in this city brought home the level of terrorism the African American citizens faced everyday. Just about every African American civic leader was threatened and most of their houses were bombed.  Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth’s house was bombed twice.  His church was also bombed.

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth led the Birmingham boycott against merchants who enforced the Jim Crow Laws. His church was bombed.

They actually have a neighborhood in town called “Dynamite Hill” because the poor white population was literally trying to bomb out the upper middle class African Americans who were moving into the area.  Angela Davis grew up here. The nickname for this city is Bombingham.  In fact, a city worker, Robert E. Chandless, known as “Dynamite Bob,” was later convicted of bombing the 16th Street Baptist Church. The complicity of the police was also a major theme during this tour and “Dynamite Bob” is proof. He was well known to Eugene “Bull” Connor, (Hahemm) the commissioner of public safety. This history of terrorism goes on and on in Alabama.

Kelly Ingram Park

Right across the street from 16th Street Baptist Church is Kelly Ingram Park. This is where "Bull" Conner turned the fire hoses and attack dogs on children who were protesting. This picture was taken from the steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church.

Kelly Ingram Park is directly across the street. I was impressed that the city had put up monuments showing the dogs and police attacking the children of the Children’s Crusade. The park is welcoming with its well-kept gardens. It’s hard to picture this place as the scene of one of the most famous incidents of police brutality in our history. It is such a contrast to the neat, well-manicured lawns, trimmed trees and colorful flower beds. Birmingham is like that. On the surface, everything looks neat and tidy. This pretty veneer hides an under current of racial intolerance.

The city did acknowledge their dark past with this statute (and others) in Kelly Ingram Park.

One thing I learned from this trip is that racial intolerance is very close to the surface at any given time. It’s an itch that once scratched will not be satisfied until the surface skin is torn and bleeding. Today, states are controlling the African American vote by limiting early voting. African Americans are more likely to vote if they have more options for when, where, and how to cast a ballot.

This is the church were the four little girls died when the church was bombed. It was a meeting place for protest organizers.

This is the city where there are statues honoring Confederate heroes in a downtown park. There were no Confeder

ate battles in the city. Yet, the city is proud of its anti-slavery history.

Odessa Woolfolk

Odessa Woolfolk taught American Government at the time of the Children's Crusade.

Odessa Woolfolk taught American Government in the African American High School and she supported the students even though she could have lost her job. She credits the women and the children of the movement for helping to win the battle for civil rights. It was often the women who first stood up to authority: Irene Morgan, Rosa Parks, Diane Nash, Catherine Burks-Brooks and Septima Clark, Dorothy Cotton and Fannie Lou Hammer were all at the front line of the movement. When Odessa Woolfolk later moved to Albany, NY., she was told a brownstone she wanted to rent was unavailable. She realized immediately that she was being discriminated against. So, she sent a white friend to look at the same house. The white friend was shown the apartment. Woolfolk filed a discrimination complaint against the state of NY and won. This forced the state of NY to integrate housing. This tiny lady is still an impressive character.

Janice Westly attended a non-violence workshop led by James Bevel.

Janice Westly, a high school student in 1963, participated in the Children's Crusade and went to jail.

Bevel made the students aware that their high school was seriously inferior to the white high school by giving examples. That motivated Janice to get involved.  On May 2, 1963, The radio DJs kept referring to “the party in the park” and saying: “We’re going to turn it out!”  Janice said she was all excited to be going to jail. When she was arrested for marching in Kelly Ingram Park with the other high school kids, a cop asked if she was comfortable in jail. She said, “I’m as contented as a Carnation Cow.”  She said the neighbors threw sandwiches over the fences to the kids who were waiting to be processed.  Over 1,000 kids were arrested that day. Today, Janice is a teacher and principal. She says, “It grieves my heart that people have no interest in civil rights.”

Lily Grove Baptist Church Unity Choir

These are members of the original Freedom Choir. Freedom songs were a huge part of the Civil Rights Movement.

One of the most amazing experiences of the trip was to hear the original Civil Rights Movement choir. Carlton-Reese Choir, known at the time as the MLK Unity Breakfast Choir provided the musical soul of the movement. Three of the original members sang for us, including the retired Chief of the Birmingham Police Dept., a African American woman — how ironic is that?  In the summer of 1963, they met every night for 40 nights to practice and one night they sang all night long. The constant singing was one way the Freedom Riders could successfully annoy the prison guards. Three of the original members still perform. Singing the freedom songs with the choir was a lot of fun and would get anyone up on their feet to march.

This is a retired Chief of the Birmingham Police Dept.

June 8: Montgomery and Selma, AL

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SELMA, AL — Wednesday, June 8th We boarded the bus to travel to Montgomery: the city “dripping with history.”

This day began with Rip Patton leading freedom songs with an accompaniment from Matthew, a Stetson Law student who plays guitar.

The best part of the protest is the music.

Ray Arsenault, Randall Williams (New South Publishing), Rip Patton

Randall Williams, of New South Publishing, gave us a quick tour of downtown Montgomery. This is cotton-growing country and he says slaves were traded here near the fountain.

Rosa Parks worked in the building in the background.

This is where Rosa Parks challenged the bus driver. The important thing about this downtown tour was to show us that everything is so close together. Even though I have been told that the black neighborhoods are very close to the working downtown, it really didn’t hit home until I actually saw it. Seeing it again and again made me aware of the pattern in the development. Also, realizing that each black neighborhood had a church that served as the center of the community and the heart of the movement in each neighborhood. The black neighborhood is about a mile away from a very posh downtown, The Garden District. Rosa worked as a seamstress in a shop not far from the fountain in the square. There is enormous confederate history here.

The Alabama State Capital in the background of Montgomery Square.

This is amazing geography. The Durrs, lived in the Garden neighborhood. They were two of the most powerful people in all of the south, not just Montgomery. And they literally lived around the corner from Rosa Parks, E.D. Nixon. They were champions of Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights Movement.  Rev. A. Phillip Randolph lived in the neighborhood. A Lutheran Minister Rev. Graetz, helped organized the transportation during the bus boycott. His house was bombed along with many others. Rosa Parks lived near the projects. Imagine bombs going off all over the neighborhood. It was a war zone.

The governor’s mansion is within walking distance. This where Big Jim Folsom, John Patterson, and George Wallace lived. This was the site of the first mass meeting at Holt Baptist Church where the mass bus boycott was organized to protest Rosa Parks arrest. The boycott lasted 383 days.

We then headed for the Rosa Parks Museum. Now, confederate history stands side-by-side with the black freedom movement. The thought makes me want to cry.

I’m listening and watching a young Aretha Franklin sing “R-e-s-p-e-c-t” on the video playing in the bus as I write this. When this song was popular it was a Civil Rights

Rosa Parks has a street in her neighborhood named after her.

anthem.

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