tv Book TV CSPAN May 15, 2011 5:00pm-6:00pm EDT
the freedom riders. eric etheridge. >> thank you. good evening. i am the photographer and author of breach of peace, a portrait of the 1961 mississippi freedom riders. preach features damone shots of 328 riders arrested that year in jackson and my new portraits of over edu writers. i am also a native of
mississippi. eig rabin hydetown called cartage, a town 60 miles northeast of jackson and you can get more information about me in the project that -- it preach.com. i am delighted to be here tonight at the harlem book fair and i am honored to be joined on the panel by three people who chose to come self in 1961 to help liberate my home state. wet the time, bob and helen singleton to my immediate right for college students in los angeles were they still live today, and at the far end of the cannel loose buckman, 1961 was a college student in new york city and he still lives here. i will introduce them more in detail in a moment, but first to set the stage for their comments, i want to run through a brief history of the freedom writes. in 1960, the supreme court had ruled that discrimination and
segregation in bus and train stations was illegal but in 1961 southern stations were still segregating and the federal government was doing nothing to enforce the law. the freedom riders changed all that. devised by james farmer and others, there were rights for planned as a two week bus trip to the south, an attempt to draw the nation's attention by integrating the segregated waiting rooms, lunch counters and bus stations along the way. on may 4, 196113 writers, both black and white, men and women left washington dc. their ultimate destination was new orleans. on may 17, the seventh anniversary of brown versus board of education. the travels of the upper cellport and the downfall but when they reached alabama, all hell broke loose. success will -- horrific mob attacks on the riders in
aniston, birmingham and montgomery were front-page news not only across the nation but across the world and is only weeks before president kennedy was due to meet with soviet premier khrushchev in vienna. desperate not to see any more photos of firebombs buses and bloody beating riders in the papers and on tv it was attorney general robert kennedy called for a hault to the rights. in an opinion widely echoed in the media and by a variety of the establishment leaders. there riders however had been reenergize by reinforcements from the national student movement and were determined to press on. next stop, jackson mississippi. in response, robert kennedy quietly reached out to mississippi officials who promised to protect the riders from mob attacks. they also promised to arrest them. when the first 27 riders to reach jackson were peacefully arrested, mississippi officials
as well as i suspect the can i be administration they give the situation was finally under control. i feel wonderful mississippi governor ross barnett said. i am so happy everything went off so smoothly. but, the riders recognized the rest for what they were, a strategic blunder by mississippi. the one that created the giant opportunity for the writers. the abandoned the goal of new orleans and instead implemented the tactic of jail, no bill other refused to pay their fines or bail out and instead invited new riders to come to jackson and fill the jails to overflowing. across the nation americans responded. wave after wave, the writers came in within three weeks they had filled jackson's jails. the freedom riders there by the turn themselves a six weeks day, maximum-security cells in parchment, the state's infamous delta of prison farm.
after parchment success in september of the interstate commerce commission issued new regulations mandating and into sig segregation and bus and train stations. all in all 320 riders were arrested in jackson the spring and summer, half were black, half for white. 75% were under the age of 30. -3/4 were men and a quarter women. by place of birth, the writers came from 39 states and ten other countries. helen above singleton grew up in philadelphia pennsylvania where they met and married in 1955. in 1961 bob was a graduate student at ucla restudy as an undergraduate when helen was a student at santa monica city college. bob was also the head of the naacp chapter on campus at ucla and had been active in protest against discrimination in housing and employment.
after their rights come the single sins return to los angeles. bob organized a core chapter in santa monica after the in ee cpt chapter was kicked off the campus. he was later the first director of the black studies center at ucla. he became a professor of economics at loyola or he was the head of the department for 20 years and where he is still teaching. helen work for a while as an artist and then return to school together master's in public administration and worked at ucla developing courses in special programs in arts and humanities. she later worked as a consultant for arts groups including the california arts council and the los angeles county museum of art. loose zuckman grew up in queens. he was doing that the university of bridgeport in connecticut lafta the rise he transferred to city college from which graduated in 1967. since then he has worked in various capacities with at risk
children and families in new york. immediately after college he worked with street gangs in east harlem and brooklyn. he later created an upward bound program, the basketball program for peurto rican and klatt -- black students which focused on getting participants in to college buses 1987 hughes bennings zakia director of scant, the support of children's advocacy network. his efforts are concentrated in harlem and the south bronx. please join with me in welcoming these folks. [applause] [applause] [applause]
[applause] >> absolutely. i have been going around the country doing a book tour and usually getting freedom riders to occurrent me where. usually the first when we start off, and we will do here tonight is to ask bob, helen and lou to talk about the motivation enjoying the ride and how they came to be part of the freedom writes in 1961. bob, can you start us off? >> as eric said, i was head of the naacp had a critical time at ucla. i went to ucla because i have heard the difference between university of california and the university of pennsylvania was the that the university of california was three. we found that was true.
i got a ph.d. for nothing before reagan. but, what i found also was that the campus around the university of california in los angeles, there was a lot of covert discrimination and i took on the naacp coast they weren't doing anything about it and organized them to go down and start picketing those places, which would not lead us work, would not let us live in apartments, would not -- we were just discriminated against all over the place. we could not get haircuts in the neighborhood for example. at about that time, the -- occurred and we started dick airlines at the walworth stores in west would the ucla campus and we want to do more. we just realized that even though we were doing the best we could to show that we were in solidarity with the students who
were trying to break down segregation and -- in the south, they have a much harder time. then came the freedom riders for the freedom riders give is a chance to go to the belly of the beast and i started organizing right away, starting to get people signed up to going, 42 people to go to ucla one time. i was going to try to fill up ucla, but a lot of people back down before we left and i had a crisis with my wife because she want to go. now, you have to have -- to take an oath of nonviolence to go. i knew if i was standing there and after -- all the training we had, which i was willing to practice non-violence as a tactic but i was certainly not going to stand there if someone reached out at my wife, so i tried to talk her out of going and of course you can see that i failed. [laughter] she insisted on going and she
caught me in a logical trap by saying, you are asking all these other people to go but you don't want me to go, so any way i lost that one. when we went down to jackson, we went by way of new orleans, and the new orleans we got more training and were told that the freedom riders who were already in parchment were in fact, some of them were trying to reform the jails and one of the things we were to tell them was not to try to do anything more then sir got your time. we were supposed to spend six weeks -- mississippi have the strange way of doing things. if you could stay for six weeks without posting bail, you could post your bail if you stayed past the six week period then had to spend the rest of your period, which was six months.
you were arrested on breach of peace. when we went from jackson, from new orleans to jackson and got into the waiting room, we went in, you could go into the intrastate or interstate, either one. if you went in as a mixed group you are going to be arrested. the use interstate and intrastate instead of color, because it was against the law for them to discriminate on either one of them but it was not against the local law. it was just against the federal law. we wanted the fed to come down and see that the law was not working. and, when we got to jackson, when we got to parchment, we went -- evan will tell you some more about the city jail and the county jail. when we got to the state jail,
parchment penitentiary, that was when i think we all woke up to the fact that we were really in jail. when those doors clanged shut, you had a chance. you had six weeks to start thinking about, how did i get here? and, is this the best place to be at the time? but, i want to point out how important this book is that eric did. we have sort of a chronological chronological -- chronologic lead linear time there. we knew we had six weeks to spend in jail. but, we had sort of a unit dimensional the existence. we were in a jail cell which was six by nine. you could not see the person in the next jail sale on the right of the left. you had a wall in front of you with a, when those on top. the witcher existence. all of these brave souls over
there, you could hear their voices and if you looked as hard as you could, to the left into the right, you could see their hands sticking out of the jail cell. that was all you saw except for one day a week kwame all of that to take a shower with a we needed it or not. and, you wanted to see these guys. you wanted to know what they were like. you wanted to know what these voices were like. we talked a lot, we sang a lot do we did not get a chance to see each other. with this book does is for that period of time you knew you were there, the way he is organized the book, he shows you all of the guys who were there with you and many of them i had never seen for 40 years. i can see them in this book, a bunch of heroes and i think i will let helen talk. [applause]
>> welcome the question we usually get and the one eric wants is to answer most is what motivated us, what motivated me as an individual to go to mississippi? i have a lot of family who is sitting here today and we share a grandmother, who had a farm in virginia. so often as i was growing up we would go down to my grandmother's farm and what used to bother me was that we live in philadelphia and in order to make the trip by car down to the southern part of virginia, which is lawrence phil virginia. it is only 70 miles north of north carolina, it was about a 14 hour ride really back in those days, but in order to get there, you could not stop him anywhere on the way to eat, and
so my mother would be up all night long cooking chicken, florals, vegetables and stuff. her fee would be tired, she would be sweating and sometimes i was helping. just an order for the family to be able to go visit our grandmother for this summer or for several weeks, which was what usually was. that bothered me, but when we got there, and spend three or four weeks, there was always, there were always some incidents that would occur. you couldn't go into town in shop except on tuesdays or something like that, and you could not sit here, you could not go there. you had to go to the black ticket window to get a ticket and stuff like that. i remember one summer, my mother made some cornbread and ask my
sister bernice and i to take it over to this white lady's house, and we did. we went up to the front door and she opened it and slammed in our face and said, come around to the back. don't you know better? that sort of thing stated my mind all the wood turns out my sister does not even remember. [laughter] anyway, there were incidents like that all the time growing up and i can recall even when the decision for brown versus board of education came down in 1954, i was not in the south at the time. that was in may and i was already out of high-school, but the news came over the television saying that the supreme court had ordered that the schools be desegregated. i thought, and she's they don't even though the school together down there. later again, her round 1956,
when i was in germany. bob and i were married in 55 and he was in the army and i was in germany, and i had an altercation with a german fellow over there and we had met some africans, who we thought were being, african-americans and they were not. i was thinking, if america is not my country in africa is not my country in germany certainly is not my country, where do i belong? i sort of decided that the united states was where i was born and that was my country and i was going to do something if i could to make it live up to the full measure of its constitution and its creed. so, when the sittings -- sit-ins' began in 1960, bob and i were very much in support and as he said he organized some
tickets, some sympathy thickets for the students to were sitting in down in south carolina and alabama and all over. they were having sit-in's and stand-in's at the movie houses, and getting beat up and all of that, and we knew that when the freedom riders, when the call came out for freedom riders, this was something we could do because we could go down to the south because they were asking us to come down there as opposed to just going down there when these events were occurring. those were more local. there is no doubt in my mind that i was going to go, and as bob said, his logic did not hold up when he did not want me to go. so, we were certain, i was certain about what i wanted to do because i have had all of these experiences and i just wanted to help out, do something about it.
[applause] >> well, i have a more personal story to tell. i was much younger. i became a freedom rider as a very personal parts of myself which i would like to share. one, i am jewish, grew up right after world war ii and my grandfather, who came from russia, would tell me the stories of what it was like to be jewish in russia and what it was like to be jewish when she came to this country. but every time she told me the horrific stories, for some reason she also told me how bad black people were treated. my grandmother was not a liberal person, politically or in many other ways but for whatever reason, she radicalized miso as i grew up, i saw us as one and i
saw us struggling as one. when i was young man, my father passed away and in the first grade in school they would ask us your name and what your father did. that was a very painful experience for me because i had lost my father and the only other kids in the class that had, did not have anything to say about their father were a -- three or four young black and latino youngsters who were in a column, the brooklyn home for children in queens so i felt a strong affinity. then jackie robinson came along. i guess he became my father, my role model. i get very emotional. i was watching the david says dine show one night and i heard jackie robinson was going to be on. roger wilkins had an naacp, the head of the urban league, henry thomas who was one of the original freedom riders when all
of the us fires, and the kkk started beating up people. he was a real hero because he did not know what was going to happen to him. they were discussing at that point on the show, should the wrights continued and henry thomas was very strong. we cannot back down to racism, that would be the biggest mistake we could make. war wilkins and whitney young were cautioning, we should not go too fast, we should not push too hard. jackie robinson, who i discovered was a republican, which was a shock to me, i was not quite sure -- i was only 8919. it still shocks me. jackie robinson did not have a lot to say. he had tears in his eyes and said, we have to support these young men. he was the only one to say that, so the next morning i went down to 38 park row which was the headquarters of congress and the
grayson and equality and net stokley carmichael and -- in his three piece suit and we both volunteered. never thought they would accept me. i did not articulate any great political sophistication olick couple of weeks that by and i got a letter that i was going to be freedom rider, as bob single and said, i certainly wasn't a pacifist. we were supposed to commit to passivism but i could not back down at that point. i certainly can't say wasn't nervous and proceeded to become a freedom rider i think sometime in mid july and certainly was a very profound experience. first of all i can't thank everyone in this audience enough for the love you the sean's. this happened so long ago in my life that i actually thought this was a dream and until eric in his book party, many of us said my god, this actually happened. we were beginning to wonder and
first of all, i really do feel something spiritual happening in america and i think eric is being moved through this book. we being remembered after 45 years. barack obama was born in 1961, don't forget that, so hopefully -- the panel before this was very upsetting, the discussion of slavery. i think we all became freedom riders most of all because this country, the racism in this country is an abomination and the effects on human beings is an abomination and hopefully we are going to take more steps. i hope this spirit that moved eric to do this book is the spirit that will help all this to make more changes because well maybe we did something that was special, there is a lot more work to be done. [applause]
>> i would like to add something. we were in jail from july 30th through late august. bob stayed later than i did because i got out a little bit early because i had an abscessed tooth and they told us in jail, if you have a bad tooth, we are just going to pull it out. we are not going to treated with anything, not give you any anesthesia either. so, i got out a little early and i caught a plane out because they tell you, you have to get out before nightfall. i caught a plane and went straight to philadelphia because i wanted my family to know that i was okay. i walked into the kitchen, this was the last weekend in august, and i walked into the kitchen of my mother's house and there she
was, frying chicken, roles and cooking those roles and veggies again, to go back down to virginia for the annual homecoming that they have down there. i said, i don't believe this. she said, she was so glad to see me and my father was glad to see me but she said, we are going down to virginia, so i just sort of crawled in the back of the car in my father's buick and just said, here i go again. [laughter] but, well we are down there, my mother took me over, she said let's go visit some of your cousins and stuff, who lived down there. and, we went to see them in some of them were schoolteachers and they own funeral homes and they had businesses at that time, and they weren't too happy with what i was doing.
she said, we don't like all of this. desegregating and stuff because the schools won't hire black teachers when they integrate the schools and we are losing our businesses and such. so, i remember saying that, this is just going to have to change. as he said, barack obama was born while we were in jail. august 4, 1961. so, little did we know that change was on its way. [applause] >> change we can believe in. [applause] >> i think it is something that, it is not in my book enough in something i try to work into my remarks, about how pretty much everybody thought the freedom rides were a bad idea, especially once, after the
violence in alabama. it was pretty universal, pretty universally accepted by concerned white liberals in the south as well as the kennedy administration as well as everybody in between, that the freedom riders had proved their points and now it was time to stop the for something worse happened. in hindsight, the freedom rides are remembered as this great campaign but it is important thing to remember that these folks did it in the face of not much support and calls from earlier for but he, leaders across the spectrum to stop and go home. lou, you were arrested on july 16th at the greyhound bus station. hell none bob orr risk that the train station. bob and helen came through it weller -- new orleans. lou came to nashville dodi guys
have any recollections of walking into the train station or the bus station and getting arrested, what that moment was like? lou? >> i got arrested around 5:00 on sunday morning so there was not a lot going on but despite that, whoever arrested me, i don't remember if it was captain raid was head of the police, told me that a mob was descending on us. the white freedom riders went into the white reading room in the black freedom riders went into the white waiting room. if i did not immediately give up i would be arrested for breach of peace. it was such a sure raid if. is shocked me go and the context that this happened throughout the judicial process in mississippi where judges and the chief of police just lied and lied on the bible. these were supposedly religious people, so it was very quiet
experience. i was exhausted and that is how i got arrested. >> i remember we saw the mom. they knew we were coming, and there was a lot of them. when the patty wegmans, we were told to get directly into the pat wiggins. i was glad to get into the paddy wagon for the women got into the paddy wagon, a white policeman walked up to me and he said he wore a -- i said to him, isn't that beautiful color? [laughter] this guy afros. he had no ability to respond to that. he said -- looked off into space and i saw him try to come up with some kind of word to come back up with but he just froze. i just walked on pass them and got into the pat reagan. people, this is one of the things that have eric put in the
book. the people said, bob that is you. that is exactly, that is the kind of guy you are and that is why we like you because you make something out of nothing. [laughter] >> i remember, even the moment we got on the plane, leaving los angeles and going to new orleans, this was at a time when the airlines, there were new companies of airlines coming on hand this was delta air lines. all of the stewardesses spoke with a southern drawl. they really thought that was pretty. i remember thinking, okay, we are going into the south and it felt like an emmy territory to me. and, when we did go into the bus station -- i mean the train
station, when we got there, we walked straight into it -- i look for the sign that said white waiting room and we walked in and sat down. we had seen what appeared to me to be modest and the fbi because they all wore their dark glasses. as we came down the steps, like getting off the train going into the station, we walked in and we just did not know what to think quite frankly. we sat down and this white policemen wearing a white shirt, with black epitaphs on it, seemed like he was waiting for us. he just asked us, you all are going to move. and, we sort of looked side to side. we knew we were not going to move. he has this again, are you all
going to move? we did not say anything, and he said okay your all under arrest. when we went out to this patty -- paddy wagon, i think they had it sitting in the hot sun all day and it was midday by then, and it was the hottest little 656 truck you ever want to see. but, we got in there and they slammed those doors and that is when we sort of looked each other and realized, we are in here, we are in here now. we were all, it please the eye know i felt very certain about what i was doing hand we did not know what lay ahead. within an hour or so we were taking these pictures. it says in the book that's the guy asked me, he asked me where
it went to school. i said santa monica. he asked me, how you spell that? i thought, my goodness. [laughter] and, this is the law. they can't even -- well anyway. our time spent in jail was quite interesting goff aside from initially me being separated out from the rest of the group that we were traveling with because i was the only black female and the group. there was a white female. they separated her and the separated me. there was another black female, a couple of them who were supposed to go the night before but they backed out, and so i was put in jail and then spent the first night -- well, the night i spent in the county jail was the worst. it was just me and a rat and
some trash on the floor. and, i was scrambling around because this route was scrambling around. [laughter] there was a pipe that came down into the jail cell and when the rat ran up, i grabbed up the trash and stuffed it up under their real quick and spent the rest of the night just listening to their rafts trying to get back out. so, i did not get any sleep. that was i think the low point of my whole experience. it took us to parchment a couple of days later and i remember thinking on the way to parchment that the south is not a bad place in terms of its climate and its natural beauty, the trees and grass and the beaches and all that stuff. i thought that, if they would
ever get their social system straighten out and stop concentrating on separating people, that that area of the country could be a great tourist attraction and it has to some extent become that, and i think they sort of institutionally have gotten their social system changed but i don't think it is completely done yet. >> i would like to share just a couple of things -- a couple of experiences. i guess, besides whatever we did or didn't do, some of the most profound moments for me or how other people, as you well responded, on the bus ride down. eric talks about this, when the fry them -- one of the freedom riders talked -- we were told not to reveal we were freedom riders because it would be too dangerous. we were not supposed to talk to
anyone and acknowledged what our purpose was. one in the cell that was with this decided to argue with some big red neck, a big white redneck who was very drunk and had a gun under his belt. he became very boisterous. there was an african-american military man -- i don't remember what service he was then, with his uniform on and at some point this redneck hit him over the head and said -- and it really got scary. the freedom rider who told eric these stories that next to the redneck and this freedom riders, will was about 64 inches, 250 pounds. he sat next to the redneck, hopefully to calm him down but he proceeded to continue to threaten us and women got into
the bus terminal in memphis, the white freedom riders went into the white waiting room and a black freedom riders went into the black waiting room but this african-american military man sat next to me and i thought that was the most courageous act by experience as a freedom rider. there were many moments like that. when we were in prison, at one point they forced the black trustees to be up the black freedom riders. i will never forget. it was an african-american freedom rider, he was about 6 feet, 2 inches, to one and 50. yet about ten days to go before he got out of jail and what we learned about the prison system in mississippi is they can lock you up without a trial and keep you there for years and years. there was a black preacher who was above us somewhere and we communicated with him by morse code. he had tried to to prevent the
mississippi police officer beating up one of his parishioners and had been in 15 -- in jail for 15 years and had never gone to trial. so i guess these were the powerful experiences for me, the personal experiences, saying that black christie with tears in his eyes and forcing him to beat -- and i need to beat because it they did not beat them hard they said we will lock your up for the next number of years. those are get the things they with me in a very powerful way and come back as we sit here. >> bob, you mentioned earlier conversations you had in parchment and singing as well. could you expound on that for a moment? >> one of the things that kept us sane was that we could not see each other but we could hear each other so we organized some lectures and people would talk about the thing they knew the best. we would sometimes sing.
now, singing, when i worked on the pennsylvania railroad for a year before it went into the army, and singing does in fact, you and it keeps you capable of doing things that otherwise you could feel the fatiguing your body or the fatigue in your soul so we wanted to sing because some people wanted to sing more than others. debt beady tyson did not like to hear this thing and he was the warden of the jill. he would come to the end of the cell block and he would say, if you boys don't stop that singing down there you are going to be singing in the rain. [laughter] i did not know what that meant. i ask myself made, singing in the rain? he said they are going to turn the fire hoses on us full blast of we don't stop singing, so i was ready to go with whatever
they were ready to go with. it wasn't so bad, but it left everything saudi for while. but, there were some tough guys in there and they believed in what they were doing and they did not care. some of them really did not care about the consequences but we were told in new orleans to try to get the freedom riders to stop fighting the jail system. we were not there to fight the system. we had a job to do and that job was -- we got out of their life. >> helen, while you ram parchment be used to go visit the rabbi would come to see the freedom riders. >> we were allowed to have one visitor, well, to visitors. you could see your lawyer and
you could see your priest or minister or according to whatever denomination you were. i was protestant baptist, and the rabbi came the first week in the priest came the second week and the rabbi came the third week and a priest in the fourth week and no protestant minister came, so the next time the rabbi came, the warden announce that the rabbi was here to visit with the jewish girls, so they should call out the numbers so the jail cell could be open. so, i called up my number, seven loudon clear and my jail cell opened and i stepped out into the corridor and the warden looked at me and she said, i know you are not jewish, but your sole needs to be saved and the house so you can go see the rabbi. [laughter] so, me and the other jewish girls, we went into this little
room and the deputy stands there and he listens to whatever the rabbi is saying. he is only supposed to administer to your soul. he is not allowed to bring you any news from the outside world. so, the rabbi returned to the warden and said, can i tell them roger maris had just hit his 61st home run? the ward would say, no you can't tell them that. [laughter] so, he would go down one by one in turn to the ward and hen asininity k-tel's and i don't think the warden ever caught on. [laughter] me and the girls, we would sit there and go like this. >> one of the guys who went down to ucla was a jewish guy. he was fairly dark skinned, but he had white hair. when we were -- after we got our
clothing, they didn't know what to do, sitting -- send them to a black silk or a first offenders can, so he kept asking him, are you wider black? he said, doesn't make much sense to keep can't tell. he would not answer the question. they finally sent to mobridge the white side. .. in a sad mary hamilton is black. get back to the line. we know who is black and it took them a day or two to figure out they did know. but that happened several times. are we ready to do -- if anybody
has any questions for the panel, there's a microphone on my left, you're right. and we'll take those now. >> yes, we will ever convict dit at anything and if so, with those convictions pardoned later? >> yes, we were convict did a y, atach of peace, which at some wa at in time there was a change. i'm not sure it was changed to breach of peace or for beecherr preece to something else. mississippi was able to get almost all of the treasury simply by that one act of increasing the bail money. in fact, before we were able to go we had to raise our own bail money. >> remember that. >> court told us we can't take any more freedom riders because the bail money fund
is gone and so anybody who wants to go on the freedom riders would have to come on with your bail money. well, that was fun because we went out and started raising our bail money before we went to mississippi and i got a chance to meet a lot of black entertainers. we would just simply tell them we were going to go on freedom rides and we needed to talk to them about helping us to raise our bail money. ill was cooperating. -- ucla was coop rating. ucla was going to give us the biggest auditorium there. we got a bail bond of fantasy going and we got a lot of stars that came to it. >> yen -- university professors too. >> and the university professors also contributed to the freedom fighters bail fund. the charge we were i rested under was ultimately reversed by the u.s. supreme court and we now are innocent people again. [applause] [laughter]
>> i knew bob in high school and i didn't know he was such a brave person [laughter] >> sitting next to you stan i have to be a brave person. >> no doubt. my question to all three of you is, in that context, how did you cope with the feeling of fear that had to envelop you at least from time-to-time if not all of the time once you arrived in the south? >> well, i was very young so i can't acknowledge. was frightened very often except once or twice when you really saw the level of rage. for example, we would go to eat at parchment and there was a white trustee would be throwing the food in our trays and i'll never forget when he said and i've got to
watch my language i was on radio last night quoting these people you say the wrong thing. he said i would love to poison every one of you mfs. he really meant that. so that was a frightening moment. we all had trouble eating for the next couple of days. but we all said to ourselves to be honest with you, they're not going to kill the white freedom riders. we all understood they wouldn't kill us because then that would hit the newspaper. then when i was released from prison the day you hit your 409 day -- 40th day you never knew when that was and they would play games with you. my name was called zuchman and i walked out. don't say good-bye to nobody and just walk out and my being a very oppositional person i started saying good-bye to all of my friends and they took me and locked me in a room and they said we're going to lock his ass up for the next two
years and that was the only moment i was terrified. because i really thought they meant that. thank god they didn't and here i am. >> i was more afraid -- i'm sorry. >> well, you do have some fear, but we were given some training in non-violence. and non-violence is based on some gandhian principles and one of the principles is called inner freedom and you really do call on that when you are afraid because you have, you've been freed up on the inside and you know that or at least you feel. you try to feel that whatever they do to you they're the ones with the problem. >> i was more afraid for helen than i was for myself.
because i knew she was the only black female in the group and i knew she was alone during that city and county period before we got to the state. i felt better when we got to the state penitentiary to tell you the truth because i knew that it would be a travesty if they allowed anyone in there to molest us where it was possible that some molestation could have taken place in the city and county level. where we were separated into four groups. thanks for the questions dan. >> good evening. my name is erica. i'm a recent college graduate and for the last three summers i've been working with the program called freedom schools and the freedom schools our history comes out of the mississippi freedom summer of '64. but i wanted to let you know i'm not sure if you're aware,
but every summer we have college age students who take a trip from wherever they're from, in my case from new york ask we go to tennessee to get trained in the freedom rides. mississippi freedom summer but more importantly our job is to come back to our communities and teach and create a love for reading in the people that we serve. and i'm saying all of this because i want to thank you for what you did because in you doing what you did, you fought for a more literal freedom and i think that what i'm doing, i look at it as trying to complete that cycle of a freedom mentally. and so i just wanted to thank you because you allow me to do what i do and that's what i wanted to say to you all. [applause] >> i'd like to say our grandchildren participate in your freedom schools.
ke we have two grandchildren and they've participated in two such -- summers straight in your freedom school and it's really a great program. >> to the point we're at the end of the freedom school summer, they were giving a little skit and each one was allowed to come to school dressed as a hero and our grandchildren came dressed as us. [applause] [laughter] >>. >> i just want to know what did your parents think about all of this? >> good question. i ask that of everybody when i interviewed all of my freedom riders i say what did your parents say when you told them you were going to go. i don't remember all your stories but go ahead. >> my family, my -- again, my father had passed when i was younger. my family was against my doing this both i think in
fear for me as well as i'm ashamed to say would they do that for us mentality. it was difficult on that level. it hurt to be frank. i did not get any support and even my friends the great intellectuals as was said. we did not get a lot of support for what we did back home. so a lot of people told me i was crazy. what are you crazy. do you realize what you're getting into as if i didn't know what i was getting into. so for me this was a very difficult personal experience and reading the book i had teary eyes sometimes reading other freedom riders talked about their parents acknowledging how frightened they were for them when they went down and weren't able to tell them at that point. >> well we called our parents
the night before we were leaving and --. >> from new orleans or from l.a.? >> from los angeles. we called them to let them know we were going to go. and bob's mother -- i'll lel you tell about your mother. i talked to both of my parents on the phone and i got this long silence and i'm sorry to say, my mother said why are you doing this? and i said something that i would later regret because i said mom, if you had done it, i wouldn't have to. and i didn't realize then that she did all she could under the circumstances growing up given that she had to live there. my father had some other things to say and they're not repeatable. [laughter] >> quite frankly.
but i was told later what he said after we hung up. but he did say that this is one child i can't get out of jail and he was sorry about that. >> well, it became clear to me one of the reasons my family never took me to any of the family reunions down south was that they knew i would probably wind up -- and i was probably going to go down there and say something or do something that would have been considered not normal. and so but you know, we had a long time to talk about it afterwards and i'm glad i went because i think it gave me a great understanding about a lot of things that you don't get out of the textbooks when you're in college. you learn real political science and real sociology in activities of this sort. next? >> in considering all that you've done, how do you feel about where we are today as
far as a nation and as far as african-americans? >> well, i'd like to say that while what we did as i mentioned before may have been important in the civil rights movement may have been important i work in east har -- harlem and south bronx and i've worked there for 40 years and i've seen things get worse and worse ask worse and worse. so i think on a very profound level we as a nation need to -- as was said in the previous panel we lie to ourselves, we lie to each other we lie to our children. we destroy our children in new york city 80% of all young people are dropping out of high school and that's a fact even though the board of education will tell us it's 50%. there are blocks in harlem where 20% of all the african-american adultses are in prison at any one time. in washington, d.c., 50% of all african american young
men between 18 and 35 are in probation or parole. things i think have gotten dramatically worse and the spins and the distortions really anger me and yesterday eric and i were on wbi and the moderator howard jordan said why aren't we getting upset about what happened with sean bell the way we were upset back in the 60s and i think that's a very good question. >> on the other hand, the freedom riders themselves when you think about what the freedom riders were attempting to do. they were trying to attest a specific piece of jushl -- judicial decision that said that at the federal level and state law prevailed. you could go from one place to another without having to worry about being and segregated circumstances if you weren't in the state passenger. the court did decide in our favor and from that point on
you had no more interstate and soon after that intrastate segregation n transportation facility,. you didn't have to ride in the back of the bus anymore. you didn't have to ride in a special train anymore and ultimately you didn't have to go into seg dpre gaited -- segregated facility,. that's the one things that has never backed up that has never back slid. the voting rights act you know, fair employment act. they fwound -- found ways to play with that so you don't, a lot of that has back slid. but you never have to worry ant -- about riding in the back of the bus anymore. or getting waited on in a restaurant or an airport or a train station. >> i think we have time for one more question. >> thank you so much. i'm honored because my aunt helen is on stage and i wanted to thank you so much for all that you've done to
pave the way for people like me and for others and for my uncle bob as well. but a quick question that i had in listening to your stories, i couldn't help but think about people for example abu ghraib and guantanamo. i was wondering, did you feel any particular way upon hearing those stories of the jihad that you hear many of the arabs and the muzz people experiencing -- muslim people experiencing in the prisons there. would you compare and contrast your experience with what you may have heard about them. >> the -- >> all i can think of is that you can't believe most of what you hear or even see. the media does tend to hide a lot of the worst of the news from the american
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