Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Taking a risk for someone else

I read this article last night, and it brought tears to my eyes. It's about James Zwerg, a white college student who was part of a group of non-violent civil rights activists (the Freedom Riders) who rode an integrated bus though the deep south in 1961. They did this to prove a point - travel facilities on the interstates in the South were just as segregated and racist as they ever were despite the Supreme Court's rulings, and it was time for the government to act.

They endured incredible violence and emotional tumult, the latter not only from aggressive people they encountered during their travels, but also from their families.

Stanley Nelson made a documentary about the Freedom Riders which you can watch on your local PBS station or on DVD. (It first aired May 16th). Many clips from the flip are online as well.

I find myself struck by two thoughts. First, what an incredibly brave thing these students did. They risked their lives and endured a tremendous amount of grief to get the government to actually do something.

Second, I wonder why now, 50 years later, so many people are so risk-averse when it comes to standing up to people who make racist/sexist/ableist remarks. Compared to what The Freedom Riders did, confronting someone on this stuff is nothing.

I hope this film, and other associated events of the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, gives people the courage to act.

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