American Freedom Riders remember the summer of change 60 years later | Black Life Issue News

Sixty years ago, a group of idealistic young people began to challenge apartheid in the southern United States. These included 19-year-old Lewis Zuchman and 16-year-old Luvaghn Brown, who became friends during the “free riding” movement in the summer of 1961. Now, in their 70s, they are not sure about the details.

“I am the youngest white freedom knight, and Loine is the youngest black freedom knight,” Zucchiman told Al Jazeera. “We met.”

Brown said the two met in Jackson, Mississippi, but how they talked-“We can’t figure this out,” he said with a smile.

Luvaghn Brown (Luvaghn Brown) is 70 years old. At the age of 16, he was the youngest black freedom knight in 1961. [Simon Tate/Al Jazeera]

From May to November of that year, more than 400 youth activists (black and white) boarded the interstate bus to the southern cities of the United States. Their task: Although the Supreme Court ruled that this practice was unconstitutional in the previous year, it still challenged the apartheid that is still being implemented at the southern transit station.

The reception they received was hostile. As we all know, “Freedom Riders” are often angered by southern whites. There have been numerous incidents of mob violence in Alabama and Mississippi, usually assisted by local police forces. Even if they were lucky enough to avoid being beaten, many militants were sentenced to several weeks in jail.

Zukhman recalled the vivid scene of his arrest shortly after arriving in Jackson, Mississippi.

“I remember being restrained, walking with other prisoners, and the judge who sentenced me saw me and spit on me. Judge!” Zukhman said. “So you start to realize the level of terror there. This is not any America we think of.”

He spent 40 days in the notorious Patchman State Prison in Mississippi.

“I remember the guy who distributed food in the morning. He was a big white trustee with tattoos. One day, he said, “If it’s up to me, I will poison every one of you.” “Trust me, in the next few days, we are very nervous about our diet.”

He is far from his hometown of New York City. Zuchman was inspired by long-time baseball hero Jackie Robinson, who was the first black man to participate in Major League Baseball. He saw Robinson on a TV show and they discussed “free riding” and whether the sport should end due to violence.

“At the end of the show, (Robinson) burst into tears and said:’Look, if these young people think it’s time for them to stand up, should we tell them not to?” Therefore, I decided to volunteer to become a freelancer the next day. “

Many people who participated in free riding were arrested and imprisoned

‘Determined to put my life on line’

Raymond Arsenault, Professor Emeritus of Southern History at the University of South Florida and author of “Free Riders: The Struggle for Racial Justice in 1961,” said that young people who volunteered to participate in “free riding” activities are very brave.

“Essentially, they are daring to stop them among Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists in the south,” Arsenault told Al Jazeera. “They are determined to put their lives on the line and sit where they shouldn’t be sitting on the sofa. The bus, then go to the wrong restroom, sit down at the wrong lunch counter in the terminal building, and confront each other.”

The campaign also forced the administration of then President John F. Kennedy to review racism in the United States, which was more concerned with Cold War missiles than Mississippi.

In May 1961, a bomb was thrown from a window near Anniston, Alabama, and destroyed a Liberty Knight bus. The bus, which was testing the isolation of the bus station in the south, stopped due to a flat tire.The passenger escaped without serious injury [File: AP Photo]

When he first heard of the early “free riding”, the 16-year-old Brown was not interested.

“A lot of people are talking about non-violence and all these things. Frankly speaking, it doesn’t appeal to me,” Brown told Al Jazeera. “I think in order to change things, people must be hurt. That’s how I was then.”

Black, who grew up in Jackson, made Brown an angry young man. He remembers how the murder of Emmett Till in Money in 1955 at the age of 10 spread fear through his community, and realized that “white people can kill anyone they want to kill and Get rid of it”.

Teal (14 years old and black) was beaten and murdered by white men who thought he was speaking inappropriately with white women.

But as more rides entered Jackson, Brown began to change his mind.

He said: “I think it’s amazing that people come from all directions.” “They explained what free riding is. I said it was cool. We should do something.”

Although Brown did not take the bus, he became an important part of Jackson’s campaign. Oppose apartheid, organize boycotts, spend time in prison, and fall into the so-called terrible situation.

“Overnight, the Kolan family followed us with the help of the local police. Therefore, we jumped off the roof of a building next to us and were able to escape.” Brown recalled. “Kran’s walked up the stairs, they were at the front door. We were almost killed.”

On November 2, 1961, a white policeman standing outside the Greyhound bus terminal in McCombe, Mississippi, stands next to the “white waiting room” sign [File: AP Photo]

“I never thought we should resign”

That summer, Zuhman and Brown had a great time in Jackson. Despite the huge intimidation and the initial indifference of American public opinion, both are determined to continue.

“Do I think we will make a difference?” Zukhman said: “I don’t know a way, but that’s my blood. I will not let people treat me like that. “

“I always thought we were right. I think we can change things by appealing to the conscience of the United States.” Brown said. “I never thought we should resign.”

Despite the risks, “free riding” continued, and finally, public opinion began to turn. According to Arsenal, as news of their abuse spread, this forced the Kennedy administration to extend a helping hand.

Arsenal said: “Kennedy is preparing to hold his first summit meeting in Vienna with Nikita Khrushchev, which embarrassed him on the front page of the entire newspaper.” “People can’t even sit in the so-called In front of the bus in Freeland.”

In the end, the U.S. federal government took action in November 1961 to prohibit racial segregation on the interstate bus network. Kennedy’s reasons for adopting civil rights went beyond the real political scope of the Cold War.

“In the world, it is impossible for John F. Kennedy to reach his claim in June 1963, advocating a comprehensive civil rights bill without free riders,” Arsenal said.

79-year-old Lewis Zuchman is still committed to improving the lives of people of color [Simon Tate/Al Jazeera]

Attitude has a lot to do with change

As for Zuhman and Brown, they still share their experiences and appear together in prison and school activities, and before the new generation begins to solve their own civil rights issues. So, what advice do they have for today’s radicals?

Brown, 76, recognizes that some young activists are eager to use more radical methods in their youth, but now he urges a more moderate approach.

“It may be as simple as wrapping your arm around someone. Brown said: “This can be a revolutionary action, depending on where you are and what they do to that person. “Therefore, we try to make young people understand that attitude has a lot to do with change. “

Zuchman, 79, is still committed to improving the lives of communities of color. He is the executive director of Scan Harbour, a non-profit organization that supports vulnerable children in New York. But he did not want to overestimate the success of free riding.

On May 24, 1961, Martin Luther King Jr shook hands with Paul Dietrich when a free rider bus left Montgomery, Alabama [File: AP Photo]

“On our 50th anniversary, people will say to me:’Are you proud of what you have achieved?’ I said, “No. “We have had some cosmetic success. But since then, I have been working in the inner city. I only see the situation of African and Latino young people getting worse.” He explained.

But he did admit a victory: “I think a special thing is that it brings together young people (whites, African Americans, men, women) across the United States. This is where we come together as a nation Unique moment.”

However, Arsenal said the impact of “free riding” is huge.

He said: “This not only changed the civil rights movement, but also changed the overall atmosphere of civil politics in the 1960s. Free riding has indeed become a model for all other rights movements.”

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