Re-creation of burned Greyhound Freedom Rider bus, National Civil Rights Museum
They got on the bus for our freedoms.
Commentary by Black Kos Editor Denise Oliver-Velez
The recreation of the burned out Greyhound bus pictured above doesn't begin to capture the horror of the actual event, that took place on Mother's Day outside of Anniston, Alabama.
Perhaps this actual photo illustrates more of the tale
that is told by those Freedom riders who were on the bus that day.
It is May. Springtime. A month of hope and rebirth. It is also a month of memories that we need to revisit yearly until the seeds of hate no longer can sow sorrow in the U.S.A.
I was only 13 years old in May of 1961. Not too young to be concerned with civil rights however, and I looked up to those young people, only a few years older than I, who packed up their bags and headed off to do battle against racial segregation.
They were black, and white, and they knew they were facing possible death.
Yet they got on buses and headed south.
The 50th anniversary of the Freedom rides and riders was held last year. This year it is 51. Before too long, none of the living will be around to tell their tales in person. But there are those of us who will not forget- ever.
Make sure you pass this recent (to me) history on to young folks. It is a lesson in courage. The courage of the young who wouldn't listen to those, often wise leaders who discouraged them from making a journey. A journey that changed history.
For the 40th reunion David Lisker wrote this story.
“The Last Supper”
On May 4th, 1961 the night before they were to leave on the first Freedom Ride, the Freedom Riders and the architects of the Ride met. Present at the dinner were Dianne Nash, the striking young spokeswoman of the group who was considered too valuable a figure to go on the Rides herself and would instead coordinate efforts back in Nashville; and James Lawson, the mentor of the Freedom Riders’ in the art of non-violence.
At a Chinese restaurant in Washington, DC, John Lewis, a young man from rural Georgia and theology student at the American Baptist College in Nashville sat in awe at the scene before him, partly out of fear at what lay ahead for them all and partly for the fact that it was the first time in his life that had ever seen Chinese food. While he greatly enjoyed the evening’s meal that night, John Lewis (now a US Congressman from his home state of Georgia) would later liken it to “the last supper.” Other Freedom Riders in attendance that evening included Marion Barry, James Bevel, Hank Thomas, James Peck, Ed Blankenheim, B. Elton Cox, Bernard Lafayette and Jim Zwerg.
The Freedom Rides BeginThis NPR story Get On the Bus: The Freedom Riders of 1961, gives more detail, excerpted from Raymond Arsenault's book (featured below).
The next morning the Freedom Rides boarded the buses and took their places, blacks and whites seated together on the bus, an act already considered a crime in most segregated states. At stops along the way, the Freedom Riders entered “whites” and “colored” areas contrary to where they were supposed to go and ate together at segregated lunch counters. They met little resistance along the way until Rockville, S.C. where an angry mob beat the Freedom Riders as they pulled into the station. This was the first of many such beatings the Freedom Riders were to receive at the hands of angry mobs.
Undaunted by the beatings. the Freedom Riders continued on their journey until Mother’s Day, May, 14th, 1961 when they were met by an angry mob (dressed in their Sunday finest as if they’d just come from church) in Anniston, Alabama. Due to the ferocity of the mob, the bus decided not to stop at the station and it quickly left, already wounded by the mob who had slashed the bus’s tires at the station. A few miles outside of Anniston the tires began to deflate and the bus was forced to pull over. As the bus driver fled in glee, a mob of men who had been following the bus got out of their cars and surrounded the stricken bus. From somewhere in the crowd a firebomb was thrown inside the bus and exploded. As the Freedom Riders tried to escape the smoke and flames they found they could not as the exit doors were blocked by the surging mob. Just then one of the gas tanks exploded on the bus and the mob rushed back allowing the Freedom Riders to push the doors open and escape. As they exited the burning bus, the Freedom Riders rushed outside still choking from the thick smoke and were beaten by the waiting vigilantes. As lead pipes and baseball bats were swung, only an onboard undercover agent prevented the Freedom Riders from being lynched that day as he fired his gun into the air. Later that same day the Freedom Riders were beaten a second time as they arrived in Birmingham, Alabama.
Flinging open the door, the driver, with Robinson trailing close behind, ran into the grocery store and began calling local garages in what turned out to be a futile effort to find replacement tires for the bus. In the meantime, the passengers were left vulnerable to a swarm of onrushing vigilantes. Cowling had just enough time to retrieve his revolver from the baggage compartment before the mob surrounded the bus. The first to reach the Greyhound was a teenage boy who smashed a crowbar through one of the side windows. While one group of men and boys rocked the bus in a vain attempt to turn the vehicle on its side, a second tried to enter through the front door. With gun in hand, Cowling stood in the doorway to block the intruders, but he soon retreated, locking the door behind him. For the next twenty minutes Chappell and other Klansmen pounded on the bus demanding that the Freedom Riders come out to take what was coming to them, but they stayed in their seats, even after the arrival of two highway patrolmen. When neither patrolman made any effort to disperse the crowd, Cowling, Sims, and the Riders decided to stay put.Yet even in the midst of this hatred there were a few who went against the tide. One was a 12 year old white girl, Janie McKinney.
Eventually, however, two members of the mob, Roger Couch and Cecil "Goober" Lewallyn, decided that they had waited long enough. After returning to his car, which was parked a few yards behind the disabled Greyhound, Lewallyn suddenly ran toward the bus and tossed a flaming bundle of rags through a broken window. Within seconds the bundle exploded, sending dark gray smoke throughout the bus. At first, Genevieve Hughes, seated only a few feet away from the explosion, thought the bomb-thrower was just trying to scare the Freedom Riders with a smoke bomb, but as the smoke got blacker and blacker and as flames began to engulf several of the upholstered seats, she realized that she and the other passengers were in serious trouble. Crouching down in the middle of the bus, she screamed out, "Is there any air up front?" When no one answered, she began to panic. "Oh, my God, they're going to burn us up!" she yelled to the others, who were lost in a dense cloud of smoke. Making her way forward, she finally found an open window six rows from the front and thrust her head out, gasping for air. As she looked out, she saw the outstretched necks of Jimmy McDonald and Charlotte Devree, who had also found open windows. Seconds later, all three squeezed through the windows and dropped to the ground. Still choking from the smoke and fumes, they staggered across the street. Gazing back at the burning bus, they feared that the other passengers were still trapped inside, but they soon caught sight of several passengers who had escaped through the front door on the other side.
They were all lucky to be alive. Several members of the mob had pressed against the door screaming, "Burn them alive" and "Fry the goddamn niggers," and the Freedom Riders had been all but doomed until an exploding fuel tank convinced the mob that the whole bus was about to explode. As the frightened whites retreated, Cowling pried open the door, allowing the rest of the choking passengers to escape. When Hank Thomas, the first Rider to exit the front of the bus, crawled away from the doorway, a white man rushed toward him and asked, "Are you all okay?" Before Thomas could answer, the man's concerned look turned into a sneer as he struck the astonished student in the head with a baseball bat. Thomas fell to the ground and was barely conscious as the rest of the exiting Riders spilled out onto the grass.
When she was growing up, the KKK was so feared and accepted by the community that her father, a small-town grocer, felt pressured to join. “He used to say, ‘It’s good for bid-ness,’” McKinney recalled of her dad. “But he was a kind-hearted soul. If he found out people were hungry, he would give them food. He didn’t care what color they were.’”Young Janie would be not only an eye witness, but a participant that day.
But racism was deeply embedded in Anniston and surrounding towns in the form of brutal, midnight beatings of black men “who didn’t remember their place” and white-only schools and restrooms. McKinney felt differently, largely because of Pearl Seymore, the family’s black housemaid who helped raise her and whom she loved. By age 12, McKinney was “old enough to know about the Klan … and I was deathly afraid of them. The Klan was like a nightmare. It was something you could see out of the corner of your eye, and then it would disappear.”
One day, her dad let her in on a secret: Outside agitators from up north were on their way by bus from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans and would be passing through town. But the KKK, he told her, was going to give them a little surprise party before they reached Anniston...
Riding on its rims with sparks flying, the bus finally could go no farther and stopped next to McKinney’s home and adjacent grocery store. As the angry mob surrounded the bus, the white bus driver ran off. Watching, McKinney saw a hand with a crowbar or heavy chain emerge above the crowd and smash out the back window of the bus. In the next moment, someone threw an incendiary device through the broken window, instantly filling the bus with roiling black smoke.Bless you Janie.
Outside the grocery store, men gathered to watch. “The people on the bus were gagging,” she recalled. While some of the passengers lay down on the bus floor in search of air to breathe, others, including an elderly black woman, panicked. Meanwhile, the crowd yelled out epithets, McKinney recalled. “They were saying things like, ‘Roast those n***s alive.’” There were reports of people outside the bus holding the bus doors shut to prevent anyone from escaping. Then, something in the bus exploded, forcing the mob back and giving the passengers a chance to break out of the burning vehicle. “The door burst open, and there were people just spilling out of there. They were so sick by then they were crawling and puking and rasping for water. They could hardly talk.” Those desperate voices, raw with smoke, propelled McKinney to do something. The 7th grader ran into the house, washed out a bucket, filled it with water, grabbed some cups and went into the crowd. “I couldn’t just stand there and do nothing,” she said.
The first person she helped was the elderly black woman, who reminded her of Pearl. “Thank God Pearl wasn’t there that day,” McKinney said. “She didn’t have to see this.” After giving her water and washing her face, the girl then went on to give water to others. Chaos erupted as the crowd closed in on the Freedom Riders, some of whom were beaten as they scrambled off the burning bus. “I don’t know why they let me live. I figured, well, maybe they won’t kill me because I’m not grown up yet. If I had been, they would have had my head on a pike.” But she felt she had to live up to her Christian beliefs, she said, summed up in “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me.”
I have always found it ironic, that those very same people who hate us, want to segregate us, and yes...sometimes kill us, turn their children over to us to raise.
I re-watched Stanley Nelson's documentary film, Freedom Riders, produced for PBS this morning.
You can view it in its entirety online.
I encourage you to watch the whole film.
And to read the book which inspired it.
Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice, by Raymond Arsenault.
You should also read Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Mississippi Freedom Riders, by Eric Etheridge, whose website documents many of those who got on the bus, and supported the movement.
Democracy Now covered the history, the anniversary and the film.
It is May again.
And I am remembering. Thankful for what young people risked for all of us.
But as the clouds of racial hatred still loom to block the sun of a new day, we should not just remember. We should move forward, take action, and be clear that the civil rights won in the past are being threatened today. The future is not yet written.
It's up to all of us to write it together.
News by dopper0189, Black Kos Managing Editor
Test the evidence. NewsOne: Miss. Refuses Death Row Inmate DNA Test That Could Prove Innocence.
That’s what Willie Jerome Manning and his legal team have been asking the state of Mississippi to do over the past ten years, since being sentenced to death in 1994 for killing the two White Mississippi State University students. He has maintained his innocence throughout the case.
Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller‘s bodies were found in Oktibbeha County Dec. 11, 1992. Both were shot to death. Miller’s car was missing, but was located the next day. Prosecutors claim Manning was arrested after allegedly trying to sell items from the victims.
The evidence used to convict him was incriminating but not exact. Hairs from an African-American male were found in Miller’s vehicle, though DNA analysis at the time was not sophisticated enough to determine if they actually belonged to Manning.
It didn’t matter; he was convicted for both murders and sentenced to death. Manning is set to be executed May 7.
It’s that simple: The prosecution did not know for certain that Manning was the right Black man, though it was clearly enough to sentence a possibly innocent man to death. That, some 20 years later, new testing technology exists that could exonerate him and point to the real killer seemingly means nothing.
Manning’s case is tragic, but unfortunately, not uncommon.
Eight years after his death, the annual August Wilson Monologue Competition provides high school students from around the country an opportunity to carry on the African-American playwright’s legacy. ColorLines: Teen Actors Keep Playwright August Wilson’s Legacy Alive.
That legacy includes Pulitzer Prizes for “Fences” and “The Piano Lesson,” two installments of Wilson’s 10-play series set in his hometown of Pittsburgh that examined 20th-century black life through the personal and political struggles of everyday people.
The monologue competition originated in Atlanta with director Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre. It draws participants from seven cities including Seattle, New York, Chicago and Pittsburgh.
For Colorlines.com, August Wilson Monologue Competition finalist Zhane Ligon, 17, performs “Rena” from “Jitney” at Manhattan’s Repertory High School for Theater Arts on April 19, 2013. Video: Jay Smooth
The progressive pushback continues against a series of proposed laws in the North Carolina legislature that seem designed to weaken voter rights, environmental laws, and health care for the poor. NewsOne: Civil Disobedience Arrests Mount In N.C. In Protest Of Conservative Agenda.
On Monday, a group of 17 ministers, civil rights advocates, and students got themselves arrested in pre-planned acts of civil disobedience outside the state General Assembly. On Wednesday, another five college students were arrested, after protesting outside the General Assembly. The students, who identify themselves as members of the NC Student Power Union, were all released on bond.
In a statement released to the press and in video clips the N.C. Student Power Union has uploaded onto Youtube, the students say they see the laws proposed by the Republican-led legislature as casting a direct and threatening cloud over their futures.
“My family struggles with finances and we have a hard time making ends meet so the last thing we need is for a millionaire sitting in the North Carolina General Assembly to take my financial aid away,”said Dhruv Pathak, a student at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.
A proposal before the General Assembly would cut nearly $200 million to the state university system.
Other proposals would hit at voting rights by shortening early voting provisions and eliminating Sunday voting and same-day registration entirely.
The war on woman continues under the radar in urban America. ColorLines: The Missionary Movement to ‘Save’ Black Babies
Last December, Care Net—the nation’s largest network of evangelical Christian crisis pregnancy centers—featured a birth announcement of sorts on the website of its 10-year-old Urban Initiative. Under the headline, “Plans Underway for Care Net’s Newest Center in Kansas City, Mo.!” a block of upbeat text described how a predominantly white, suburban nonprofit called Rachel House had “made contact” with “various African American pastors and community leaders,” who helped them “plant” a “pregnancy resource center” in a predominantly black, poor section of downtown Kansas City.
Rachel House’s mission is clear: It is an evangelical ministry with the primary goal of “protecting the unborn.” But the nonprofit doesn’t do picket signs and bloody-fetus images. Instead, it draws in young women facing unintended pregnancies with things like free pregnancy testing, first-trimester ultrasounds and baby supplies. The Rachel House team proudly emphasizes the quality of its care. “We tell all of our clients, ‘Even though you’ve done a pregnancy test at home, we’re going to do another one here,’ ” explains Rachel House client services director Susanne Hanley. “We buy the hospital-strength pregnancy tests. We don’t know what they used; they could have used one from the dollar store, or whatever.”
In some ways, Care Net’s Kansas City operation is neither unique nor new. For nearly 20 years, the evangelical anti-abortion movement has used standalone crisis pregnancy centers to dissuade girls and women from ending unintended pregnancies. These mostly volunteer-staffed centers posit themselves as neutral, nonjudgmental sources of information about abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, adoption and abstinence. As Americans United for Life’s Jeanneane Maxon told the New York Times in January, “They’re really the darlings of the pro-life movement” due to their “ground level, one-on-one, reaching-the-woman-where-she’s-at approach.”
Since 2004, Rachel House has run centers in two Kansas City suburbs—one in Lee’s Summit, across the street from a high school, and one in the Northland, next door to Planned Parenthood. Both areas are about 85 percent white and solidly middle class. Rachel House raises most of its funds through events like golf tournaments and “baby bottle drives” that challenge congregants to fill up empty bottles with cash and checks and return them to church on Sunday.
The new Rachel House, however, is on 46th St. and Paseo, in the heart of the city. It sits across the street from J’s Pawn & Fine Jewelry, where patrons can cash checks and get payday loans. This area is mostly black, up to 36 percent of its residents are poor and it has one of the highest infant mortality rates in town.
Voices and Soul
by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Poetry Editor
I have always cited the scene in the movie adapted from the B. Traven novel, "The Treasure of Sierra the Madre," where crusty Walter Huston is telling impatient and larcenous Humphrey Bogart that the Mountain is like a woman, that she must be put back together after she's been mined for her riches, after she's been drilled, gored, stripped and ravaged for her gold and her silver and her Soul.
But that was when I was a Romantic and thought the mere elevation of Woman on a Pedestal was enough to grant Her position and meaning on this Wheel of Life, that She was granted respect and equality. That was a time when I thought I had the power to grant and bestow and proclaim.
I'm a bit more jaded to reality now. I'm unwilling to accept that, rather than treat women as Mountains and Oceans and Moons and Stars, we men-folk treat women as pack animals, honored only by what value we can extract by loads hauled and years tasked.
Mules and Women~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
with respect to Zora and the Ground of the African Church
Sorrowtalked eye-to-eye forgiven is no mere burden.
The one who sings is no mere beast.
The one who slips the harness of the horror stands alive
Today I can watch the wind and it is blue smoke.
I shake myself inside my dress, consider rain and choose
I was walking down Mississippi River Street
and a ghost stopped me.
No one could see it but me,
standing in the middle of the sidewalk
smilin at a haint with his hat in his hand
instead of his head when he can tote that too.
When one mule die
the rest neigh-cry
till the wagon take the dead thing away.
Mississippi River Street rampant with noise,
radiant, won’t hold still.
But I have walked on blue black water.
Watched dead rise before the wagon came.
Everywhere I see mules,
open mouths sing blues, then be human, then
Funerals, weddings, baptisms
I take off my skin, hang it up
like a soaked quilt to dry the tears
and sweat from feeling. I stand naked before Church,
holding Dr. Watts closer than my sagging, girlish breasts.
My soul wears no clothes when she sing.
It is all being in love with more than one
man who is one whole man you can look into his eyes
Where would I go to hide?
Dr. Watts standing with my skin hooked on his finger
and I am next to him solid and living the song
with no words .
that every born-again mule knew in death and in life
birth, now hums true again hot in the chest and throat
breaking natural out the mouth like breathing.
Where would I go to hide?
Sit down, rock my soul like my baby and Dr. Watts
climb in my lap and moan for the milk no mother can buy
only make in hearts of her eyes, in lines of the palms
of her hands.
And where would I find lines with no skin?
Where would I go to hide?
I tell you I am living now. Like in Mississippi
Grandmama’s bedroom sitting on the high bed
you could break
your neck leaving.
Cousin Chubby said fried fish, greens, and cornbread was
good eatin. I am good livin. Blue smoke watching,
naked, haint-smiling, entertaining Dr. Watts, dreaming
of a man with a white liver who can’t kill me,
who love mulish women, hainted ones,
I am the sainted one
naked with no sense of memory but good like God rocking
hums in my lap and looking for no hiding place even if
wind be blue smoke hurricane and I make red milk
in the hearts of my eyes and reach out my lifelines to
a hopeless haint I can stand myself.
Naked now, where would I want to go to hide? From this
funeral wedding death and birth baptism
the sliding tears washing my soul cleaner than
Dr. Watts’ whistle or the look in a sweatin man’s
eyes when he lookin at a perfect, brutal sun
killing him with living while he lick his lips and dream
of water, then put his shoulder behind a woman
guiding him while he dig in and groove the earth
to the quick
deep endless quick.
Where would I go
Where would I go to hide this
yes-crying love yielding beyond flesh yet
subsumed by sweat
Where would I go naked so
following blues and Dr. Watts
like a double-seeing shadow
standing before you with only blue smoke
humming yes and yes and yes
subsumed by sweat and yielding
beyond mere flesh.
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