[sixties-l] Freedom Riders plan a reunion in Mississippi

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Wed Jul 18 2001 - 03:09:10 EDT

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    Monday, July 16, 2001

    Freedom Riders plan a reunion in Mississippi


    Their '61 fight against segregation struck a key blow for civil rights.

    By Deborah Bulkeley

    JACKSON, Miss. - Just after her train arrived here in the summer of 1961,
    Norma Lisbon and about 20 companions - some black and some white -
    challenged the rule of segregation by entering a waiting room labeled
    The band of Freedom Riders was arrested, and most of Lisbon's 40-day
    imprisonment was spent in maximum security. In exchange for her freedom,
    Lisbon was required to sign an agreement never to set foot again in
    Mississippi. Now, 40 years later, she intends to return.
    Lisbon, now retired and living in Philadelphia, and Carol Ruth Silver, a
    veteran civil rights campaigner, would like to see every surviving Freedom
    Rider attend a reunion in Jackson in November.
    "I think the message is one of reconciliation, of putting this chapter in
    the history of Jackson, Miss., in its perspective," said Silver, 62, a San
    Francisco lawyer who is organizing the reunion.
    "It's time for making this a monument to the history of the civil rights
    movement . . . to allow kids in Mississippi, both black and white, to say,
    'Here's where something important happened, and we look at it and
    understand it.' "
    In May 1961, a group of black and white college students who became known
    as Freedom Riders set out from Washington to New Orleans to test a Supreme
    Court ruling banning racial segregation on interstate public transportation.
    At segregated bus stations, black riders tried to use white waiting rooms
    and bathrooms, while whites tried to use facilities set aside for blacks.
    As the riders were beaten and arrested along the way, national attention
    rose, and hundreds joined the campaign.
    "People were on fire. They wanted to change things, and they did," said Ed
    Blankenheim, 67, who was on a Greyhound bus that was firebombed in
    Anniston, Ala.
    "It was the freedom-ride notion itself - riding for freedom - that changed
    the civil rights movement," Blankenheim said.
    With the help of a few friends, Silver has compiled a list of 416 Freedom
    Riders by searching Jackson police records and archives of the
    Clarion-Ledger newspaper.
    An Internet query has provided several possible addresses to match each
    name. A tedious search has begun, said David Lisker, a history professor at
    City College of San Francisco, who is helping organize the event. He met
    recently with the Jackson City Council.
    "To us, every Freedom Rider we find is like finding gold," Lisker said of
    the growing list of people who have been invited.
    Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. called the reunion an "opportunity for
    citizens to demonstrate to them how appreciative they are of the work they
    did some 40 years ago.
    "The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, all came on
    the heels of the kind of social activism that the Freedom Riders were
    symbolic of during that period of time," he said.
    Although traces of racism remain in the state that recently voted to keep a
    Confederate emblem on its flag, Mississippi today has more black elected
    officials - including mayors of large cities - than any other state.
    Blacks and whites work side by side in local and state law enforcement,
    once a whites-only profession. And most communities enjoy good race relations.
    The reunion, planned for Nov. 8-11 at Tougaloo College, will include
    speakers on the civil rights movement, a tour of jail cells where the
    riders were detained, and a tour of historic sites in Jackson, Lisker said.
    In addition, it will be a chance to meet the friends and cell mates who
    helped one another endure 40 days in prison.
    The civil rights campaigners, most now in their 60s, recall the fear they
    felt as they rode into Jackson on buses and trains. They also remember mobs
    of reporters and police officers.
    They say the years have not dulled memories of overcrowded jail cells and
    angry guards, passing notes through bars and keeping journals on toilet paper.
    Recalling the angry whites who hissed at her during the hearing after her
    arrest, Lisbon, 67, said: "I'm hoping that with the passage of all this
    time they will look at us as just fellow Americans doing what any American
    would do."
    Neither Lisbon nor Silver regrets the decision to go to jail. Both went on
    to lecture and recruit more Freedom Riders. They say they are excited about
    the reunion.
    Said Silver: "We will demonstrate one more time, if necessary, that blacks
    and whites can get more done working together than they can separately."

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