It is Memorial Day when Americans take off from work if they have a good job. If they work retail jobs they work overtime in some store for some sale. It is a day when we are supposed to give honor and respect for all the soldiers who fought and died in the armed forces to protect this country. Most of us just spread mustard all over a paper plate that has a flag printed on it.
Recently most of us give homage to the armed forces the only way we really know they will get our individual support. We don’t write a check because we don’t know how it will be spent. We don’t volunteer because we don’t have time. We shake the hand of a soldier still in uniform in an airport and thank them and give them money directly. We play ball with a kid who lost his father in some war. We make teddy bears for the children who have to go to the airport to claim the casket that holds their father or mother that is coming back from a war. Memorial Day can be any day as long as we remember!
Today I want to remember a war fought between Americans to change injustice in our country. Recently it was the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Riders; a group in 1961 that grew to 436 that now have 178 survivors. These were mostly college students of all races and religions that boarded busses and rode to the south to protest the practice of whites only places like the front of busses, restaurants, hotels, rest rooms water fountains and any place else the southerners still tried to separate people.
These people like our soldiers voluntarily signed up for a very dangerous job, wrote wills and took off to face their opposition. The busses left from Washington to Atlanta with little opposition but when they drove down to Alabama and Georgia the busses were bombed, the tires were slashed the people were beaten even though they did not have any weapons or fought back. There was a PBS Documentary that chronicled these events.
There was only one person that came to the aid of the bus people. A 12 year old girl, Janie Forsyth McKinney, the daughter of a grocery store owner who gave out water to the people that were beaten and gagging from the bus that was on fire. who was later ostracized in her town. More bus loads came and the southerners filled a Mississippi prison with bus people. The southern prisons were filled and slowly the signs came down through out the south and people could have the freedoms they were promised in the days of Lincoln.
There was a reunion on one of Oprah’s last shows where none of them could smile on this day years later while being introduced to the audience but they all remembered the songs they sang on the busses. If you want more testimony contact Congressman John Lewis who was beaten and was a Freedom Rider. Or watch Stanley Nelsons documentary in which he wrote, directed and produced the film The Freedom Riders Documentary airing on PBS or read Raymond Arsenault‘s book called Freedom Riders.
Even the Kennedy administration begged a leader Dianne Nash to stop the busses in fear for their lives. She continued and was one of those jailed. A member of Attorney General’s staff from Robert Kennedy’s staff was also beaten. Anyone who has fought for another person’s injustice anywhere should be honored this day with a thankful thought between the shopping and outdoor activities and cook outs.