Freedom Riders

Freedom Riders

As a high school student I had heard a great deal about the Civil Rights movement. If from anybody I had heard it from my few friends at school, mostly from Sean, my best friend. Of course, there was always the news, constantly changing, and bringing the horrors of the so-called "real world" to our TV. My father, a bus driver could be heard complaining nightly about the Freedom Riders. Woven with the sharp tinkle of shot glasses and thick whiskey pouring from the clear glass bottle, his drunken curses rose to my ears in my room, though underneath my pillow and covers. I won't go into detail, but his complaints went along the lines of how obstinate the blacks (he used another word for this) and how foolhardy the whites were. My mother had tried to raise me, against my father's wishes, as broad minded and accepting as my grandfather had done to her. Though I knew my father heartily disapproved, I became more and more attracted to the concept of "riding for freedom". The thoughts of being as brave as my peers in adversity made my lift me head a little higher as I walked down the halls as school. Sean already was a Freedom Rider and towards the end of our senior year he missed several days of school, and when he got back, he always looked a little older and sadder. The summer of after my senior year, Sean finally convinced me to join him on a small-scale freedom ride to Alabama.

I based my decision to become a Freedom Rider on several factors. One was simple rebellion against my father who had grown increasingly "overprotective" as my mother put it of his "little girl". He disapproved of Sean for the obvious reason that he was a Freedom Rider, and he correctly predicted that I would be sucked into his "whirlpool of defiance." Sometime in mid July, Sean and I walked down Headquarters where I met my fellow fighters. My heart was a cocooned butterfly struggling to break free. We were riding on bus 17 from 10 am to when we arrived in Alabama. I was introduced to several people, about 10 or 11, but I can't recall their names or their faces. At around 9:30, we all walked quietly to the bus stop. I silently thanked G-d for not making the route my father's route. The bus pulled up, and we boarded.

My first day on the bus taught me important lessons about my partners. The quiet strength, like a beacon on light shone in their faces, giving me courage, Sean was nervous, but he tried not to let it show. There was one girl a couple years older than I who appeared to be the leader. The bus driver smiled at us when we boarded. He was young, much younger than my father, and had a kind, appealing face, as if begging for a bus ride with no trouble. My heart tugged and I saw several people hesitate, but for a girl spoke up in a loud voice, obviously meant for the driver to hear. "Come on, get on. They're all the same." But looking at her, I saw as she stared into the driver's face almost sadly. When passing by to put our money in the coin slot, she quickly squeezed his shoulder, and whispered something to him. I realized that the driver was probably a brother, a friend, a boy friend, or a husband. A flash of pain wafted across both of thier faces. On of the men with us had a lovely little girl in his arms, sucking her thumb. About four years old, she stared at me with wide, blue innocent eyes. The father caught sight of me staring at her and said "It was my day to take care of her. She's been on these things before. Don't worry" But I did worry. It took about two hours to reach Alabama. The bus ride itself was surprisingly uneventful. We all sat in the back of the bus, but there were not many blacks on the bus. Sean was disappointed, but I was slightly relived. That bus ride served as sort of a set of training wheels for my future as a Freedom Rider.

The realities of life in the Deep South left a long lasting impression on me. When we pulled up to the last bus stop, there were several rough looking teenagers, about 19 or 20 leaning on the splintered wooden posts. I glanced at Sean. He grew white as sheet, but when he caught sight of me staring at him he smiled wanly and said "It's the wrecking crew again." I began giggling, more out fear than anything else. I was the first to step off the bus, and I made a big show of getting off out of the black section. The men checked me out unsmilingly, but didn't say anything. Sean was next to get off. His exit caused more ruckus than mine did. One of the men, a blonde, unshaven and quite obviously drunk, called out "Hey boys, it's the little Jew-boy again. What do ya' think o' that? We beat him up pretty good last time didn't we boys. I didn't think he'd come back." His comment causes a ripple of loud agreement throughout the miniature mob. Sean grew even paler and I grasped his hand. Fortunately the men didn't see my gesture. By that time, the rest of our group had gotten off the bus. The man with the little girl spoke up. "Look boys, we don't want any trouble today. I got my little girl with me. No violence." The men ignored his pleading eyes, and stepped over to me. "Hey girlie, how ya' doing chick?" a sharp pain shot up the side of my head and everything went black. I woke up several hours later in a dark room. Sean was talking to me. "Christy, we're gonna have to stay here for about a week." I nodded and went back to sleep.

I stayed in Alabama for an eventful week. When I could finally get up without the room spinning, I walked out of the room into a dark hall. I realized we were in a cheap motel. There were no windows, so I stepped outside of the building. It was dark, and stars speckled the night and a waning moon shone bright. There was a porch swing swinging in the hot breeze, so I sat down. I don't know how long I sat there, but I do know that it wasn't very long until a large, silent group of figures clothed in light. The shining moon cast eerie shadows, and I knew that evil was heading my way. I shrank into the corners of the night in fear. A few minutes later, I saw a large crude wooden cross propped up on the lawn and sloshed with gas. One of the white figures bent down and touched a flaming match to the bottom. Almost instantly, the whole cross burst into flame, and the white figures ran off. Someone began screaming, and I realized it was me. The rest of my comrades rushed out to join me. We watched as the cross, once a symbol of peace, love, and religion burn to the ground. The ashes stirred in the wind, and then finally die.

When I finally got home I had the chance to sort out my feelings. The Freedom Rider's ride was not what it was made out to be. There was no glory, at least not the glory that I thought would be there. I had risked my future, and ended up with a black eye and a sprained wrist. My father had not said anything to me, but he was not happy at all. I didn't care at all. I had tried something, and in a personal way I had succeeded. My mother looked at me with silent pride shining in her eyes, and that alone was reward enough.

Now, 30 years later, I am amazed at how the Civil Rights Movement is remembered. Freedom Riders like myself are no longer scrawny college students with nothing else to do. We are brave and strong and undefeatable. We held our heads high in the worst conditions. We are the Freedom Riders. People such as M.L. King are legends in their own time and past, and the movement itself is viewed as a lifetime struggle with ups, downs, and eventually victory. We finally did it. We finally won.

P.S. This story has nothing at all to do with my life. I wasnt alive then.

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