“Get on the Bus”

I was five years old in 1961 when the  Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) began sending civil rights activists, mostly college students, into communities in the South, to bolster the US Supreme Court’s decision ending segregation for interstate travelers. I was too young to know about the Freedom Riders or racism and had never heard of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Two years later, when I was 7, my parents left  me and my sister and brother with my grandmother and went to Washington, DC, to join King and thousands of others in the March on Washington.

Years later, when my children were in elementary school and my parents would visit, I’d arrange for them to visit my kids’ classes and talk about their experiences on the march. They would describe the peaceful atmosphere of the crowd and the genuine sense of humanity that flowed as people marched.

When I began teaching middle school, I’d tell my students that my parents participated in the march and heard King’s “I have a Dream Speech.” My students, mostly African American, were incredulous that white people were involved with the Civil Rights Movement.

Tomorrow night PBS is airing “Freedom Riders,” a documentary film by Stanley Nelson honoring the 50th anniversary of the efforts to desegregate bus terminals, public restrooms, and lunch counters.   Nelson, in an interview in today’s New York Times, says “I feel like I’m trying to tell African- American audiences something they haven’t heard, because I feel like if I tell African- American audiences something  new about their history, then it’s definitely going to be new for white folks too.”

PBS through its “American Experience” program  organized 40 college students from around the country to retrace the 1961 rides from Washington, DC to New Orleans, LA. Their journals and conversations with some of the remaining Riders, are on its website.  The goal is to foster civic engagement.

Check out the website and watch the program. Tape it and share with children.


About cyclingrandma

I was a journalist (Danbury News-Times, Ct), before becoming a teacher, and continue to write for professional journals. I have written several study guides for Penguin Books and write for Education Update, a newspaper based in New York City. (www.educationupdate.com). I’ve interviewed many authors, college presidents, and scientists. I wrote “The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Jockeys” for Smithsonian Magazine's website, www.smithsonian.com. (April, 2009). Two essays have been published in book anthologies; one for Wisdom of Our Mothers, (Familia Books) and the other in “College Search and Parent Rescue: Essay for Parents by Parents of College-Going Students.” (St. Martin’s Press). I was a middle school Language Arts teacher for more than 10 years and have just completed a five year grant position under No Child Left Behind in Newark, NJ public schools. I have three children, two daughters-in law, and six grandchildren. I'm an avid cyclist, knitter, cook, and reader. I love theater, museums, and yoga.
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