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.
— 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.