“Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”**
May marked the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Freedom Rides. From May through August of 1961, a total of 435 activists—black and white, men and women, mostly students—traveled by bus to cities in the South in order to participate in nonviolent protests over the persistence of unlawful segregation. The first riders left Washington, D.C. on May 4.
“The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
I, for one, will certainly never forget. Those TV and newspaper pictures of the brutal violence that first group of riders faced in Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama, are forever etched in my memory. In San Francisco, we knew little of the long-standing Jim Crow laws of the South. We knew segregation was illegal, of course. The Supreme Court had said so. But we didn’t personally experience the hesitance of the Kennedy administration to enforce that law.
“It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”
Less than six months after the Freedom Rides began, the federal government mandated that all public transportation facilities be desegregated. Yes. Well, why, then, the frustrating persistence of injustice in our country today… the endless grasping of the too powerful, the growing chasm between the rich and the rest of us, the influence of lobbyists in Washington, lingering race discrimination? Maybe progress just takes a whole lot longer than we expect. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that the moral arc of history is long, but ever-bending toward justice.
“…and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”
Let us pray it is so.
**Abraham Lincoln, “Gettysburg Address,” November 19, 1863