When the history books are written in the future somebody will have to say there lived a race of people, a black people, fleecy locks and black complexion, a people who had moral courage to stand up for their rights, and thereby they injected a new meaning in the veins of history.
After we saw the film Freedom Riders, and considered joining Julian Bond’s civil rights tour of the south, I thought long and hard about the required travel by bus. I wondered if I could manage sitting in one place for long stretches of time without encouraging lots of aches and pains which set in when I am not moving about. Bill and I needed to make a decision quickly because there were only “a few seats left” and it was going to be the “last trip” Julian would lead. So, I decided that I’d trust the Universe and just get on with it. It seemed like an important trip to make to further my understanding of the world as well as myself.
I have always considered myself a student. I’m curious and like to know how most things work and why. My school experience ended when I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Elementary Education. Since that time I’ve found that learning by experiencing was the way for me to go. Why sit in a classroom and read a book if an opportunity to see the world, near or far arose? When traveling to places where people don’t speak my language, are culturally unlike me or are in situations I’ve never known, I gain a new understanding of the world, who I am and where I fit in.
But back to the bus. It was an image that stayed with me throughout my preparation for this trip. As the day of our departure drew nearer, the bus became a symbol that haunted me as we traveled. Back in the early days of segregation, buses were one of the easiest and sometimes the only way to travel. Not everyone had a car. I thought again of those courageous freedom riders, who risked their lives in the process of trying to end segregation. I thought of Rosa Parks, who one day in 1955, simply got tired of being humiliated and doing the things white people ordered her to do. She refused to move from her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, when the driver told her to move further to the back to make room for a white man, even though there were other seats available to him.
Mrs. Parks was arrested and the next day black citizens of the city and county met in mass meetings at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church (where Martin Luther King Jr., was pastor at the time), and in other churches throughout the city. After a one day boycott, the people came together again and agreed to continue with the boycott until the city agreed to desegregate the bus service. Blacks and some whites found other ways to get to their jobs. People who owned cars drove others to their destinations free of charge. They walked, rode bikes and helped each other out. The city bus company started losing money and they gave in to the demands of the black community.
With that in mind, I decided that to travel by bus was the only way to make this journey. It was the only way to get as close to history as possible. It was a way of sitting with the ghosts of those who had forged the way to freedom. They were humiliated, beaten, and sometimes killed, but in the long run, they won the right to sit where ever they wanted, to eat in any restaurant they wanted to and ultimately to become voters. Yes, I was uncomfortable at times. Yes, I wasn’t getting the exercise I normally get. But my aches and pains never came close to what those ghosts had suffered. I was happy to listen to their stories and the pain they experienced as we rode the bus through the land where slavery had been a way of life for too many years.