Tag Archives: John Lewis

A moving film about the Freedom Riders. And Paul Simon makes a fan’s dream come true

Fifty years ago, a revolution was ignited with a simple idea.
Take courageous African-Americans and a few white folks, send them into the Deep South on Greyhound buses, and see if integration could occur while the riders did their damnedest to practice non-violence.
What happened changed American history for the better. These riders were beaten, bloodied and forced to endure disgusting racism across several states.
But they did it, and those buses were part of the great rolling movement that in the 1960s, changed the world.
PBS debuted a movie last week about the Freedom Riders, as part of its “An American Experience” series, and I watched it Friday night.
It was fabulous. Deeply moving. And eye-opening.  As much as I thought I knew about the Freedom Rides, just from history class and my own reading, I learned a lot more.
Such as:
— The Kennedy administration was a lot less supportive than I’d thought, and truly only got involved once the violence escalated.
— The Freedom Riders’ idea on the second and third rides, to get arrested and refuse to be bailed out so as to fill up Mississippi’s Parchman prison, was genius.
— How strongly did Southern governors feel about segregation? Alabama governor John Patterson actually refused to take phone calls from President Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy during the crisis.

It’s really a sensational movie, and it doesn’t sanitize anything. You see all the ugliness, including a bus-burning in Alabama. The courage of volunteers like John Lewis, Diane Fisk, and Pauline Knight-Ofusu inspires me.
The volunteers knew it could be a very dangerous exercise; one woman says that “we had all signed our wills and testament” before agreeing to ride.
These men and women were true American heroes, and their story is beautifully told in this movie. I highly recommend checking it out.
You can watch the entire movie online here, or check our local PBS listings; it’s airing at different times throughout this month.

Man, I wish I had been alive back then.

**Finally, a big smile for your Monday, brought to my attention by the incomparable Roger Ebert’s blog. Paul Simon was playing a concert in Toronto a few weeks ago, and as he introduced the song “Duncan,” a fan shouted out that she learned to play guitar to that song.
Simon replied: “Come up here and play it on my guitar.”

And so Rayna Ford of Newfoundland got the thrill of her life. Just look at how happy she is playing this song. It takes so little for celebrities to make dreams come true.

When reporters helped change the world

RaceBeat2

So two things combined this week to inspire me to write this post:

1. Like every other newspaper¬† journalist I know, I’ve been getting sick and tired of everyone telling us how irrelevant we’re becoming.

We’ve got blogs now, and Twitter, and the Internet, and who has time to wait for a newspaper anyway? goes the cry from the masses. Combine that with the hemorrhaging circulation and advertising being in the toilet, it seems everywhere you look, newspapers are gasping for their last breath.

And,

2. Today, August 28, is the 46th anniversary of the greatest speech of the 20th century, Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” oration in Washington, D.C.

So given those two things, I wanted to write about an amazing book I read last year called “The Race Beat.” It’s by two legendary journalists, Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff, and it tells the previously untold story of the courageous journalists, black and white, who helped force the civil rights movement forward into the American consciousness.

By no means does this exhaustive but entertaining book give the journalists all the credit for the movement, but it absolutely does a service to the brave reporters who were on the front lines.

Reporters who had a conscience, yes, about the unconscionable treatment of blacks in the South, but also reporters who knew a good story and knew enough to follow it all the way through.

Typical of them was John Chancellor of NBC, who, the authors write “when faced with a flying wedge of white toughs coming at him” as he talked to a black woman after the Emmett Till lynching trial, pointed his microphone out and yelled “I don’t care what you’re going to do to me, but the whole world is going to know it.”

These reporters were on the front lines right alongside men like Ralph Abernathy and John Lewis, getting their heads bashed in and hosed down with water just like the rest.

Seriously, without reporters like Claude Sitton of the New York Times (who I had never heard of before this book was published, and now I count as a journalistic hero) and Simeon Booker of Jet Magazine, so much of the awful degradation and punishment of African-Americans might’ve stayed under the radar.

And the photographers of the era were equally important; Charles Moore of Life magazine shot some of the most iconic images that were then splashed across America’s coffee tables.

But by constantly confronting the Bull Connors and George Wallaces, and holding a mirror up to their racism, the reporters in the civil rights movement did my whole profession proud.

Of course, not everyone was on board; newspapers like the Birmingham News and others were still trapped in a time warp, refusing to acknowledge the changes going on.

But a small trickle of brave editors like Harry Ashmore at the Little Rock Gazette begat brave editors, and more and more media finally began to cover the civil rights movement, so that brutal attacks on innocent protesters, like the people crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama in 1965, would be seen and shoved down the throats of Northerners, forcing them to take notice and demand action just as their Southern brothers were doing.

Truly, this book should be essential reading for journalism students, or any students of American history. If you’re a writer like me, turning its pages will once again make you feel proud to be a part of this profession.

Even if you’re not a journalist, I urge you to check out this beautifully-written tale of courageous people , black and white, who by their words and pictures helped change the world for the better.

And now, just because it can never be heard enough …