Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Freedom riders demonstrate both the power and triumph of nonviolence

Our triumph consists again in being imprisoned for no wrong whatsoever. - Mohandas Gandhi

John Lewis in 1961

"Boarding that Greyhound bus to travel through the heart of the Deep South I felt good. I felt happy. I felt liberated. I was like a soldier in a nonviolent army" - Representative John Lewis, Freedom Riders trailer, American Experience, 2011

Joan Trumpauer Mulholland in 1961

"They can cause change for good. That they have the power and I hope that they will learn from our experience ways of looking at things -- thinking outside the box daring to do things that most people wouldn't. I hope they get ideas of how to tackle the problems of today." - Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, PBS Newshour May 13, 2011

Watch the full episode. See more American Experience.

Imagine for a moment hundreds of young Americans threatened, attacked, imprisoned and responding with nonviolent resistance. This happened in the Freedom Rides initiated by the Congress of Racial Equality on May 16, 1961. Fifty years later they still gather to remember what happened and to tell new generations that they too can make a difference for the better.

American Experience offers a powerful image with an interesting question: "Could you get on the bus?" I think the more provocative question is "Would you get on the bus?" Knowing what awaited the riders as they traveled further into segregationist territory.

Freedom Riders bus firebombed by racists in 1961

Buses were burned and people were hurt. Its a miracle that no one died on the Freedom Rides but we know that other nonviolent civil rights activists were indeed murdered. The students who participated in the last portion of the freedom rides had written their last wills and testaments. Would you get on the bus knowing all of this?

John Lewis and James Zwerg after being attacked in Montgomery, AL in 1961

This movement, along with the American Civil Rights movement in general was inspired by the nonviolent teachings and philosophy of Mohandas Gandhi. The struggle for freedom requires full effort. The Freedom Riders demonstrated that in 1961 and changed the United States of America for the better. Below is a featured excerpt that describes the link between the Civil Rights Movement and Gandhi:

Watch the full episode. See more American Experience.

Fifty years later let us remember and honor the hundreds of young and courageous men and women who not only could get on the bus but decided that they would risk everything to take a ride for freedom.

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