60 years later, the American Freedom Rider still remembers the changing summer that the life of blacks is also life news


Sixty years ago, a group of idealistic young people began to challenge the apartheid system in the southern United States. Among them were 19-year-old Lewis Zuchman and 16-year-old Luvaghn Brown, who became friends in the “Free Ride” movement in the summer of 1961. They are both in their 70s now, and neither of them is sure of the details.

“I am the youngest white freedom knight, and Luvaghn is the youngest black freedom knight,” Zuckerman told Al Jazeera. “We somehow met.”

Brown said the couple met in Jackson, Mississippi, but how they talked—”We can’t figure it out,” he said with a smile.

Luvaghn Brown is now in his 70s. At the age of 16, he was the youngest black freedom knight in 1961. [Simon Tate/Al Jazeera]

From May to November of that year, more than 400 young activists — black and white — boarded an interstate bus to cities in the southern United States. Their mission: to challenge the still-enforced isolation of the southern transit station, despite the Supreme Court ruling that this practice was unconstitutional last year.

The reception they received was hostile. As we all know, the Freedom Rider is often angered by southern whites. There have been many mob violence incidents in Alabama and Mississippi, usually with the assistance of local police forces. Even if they were lucky enough to avoid beatings, many militants spent weeks in prison.

Zuckerman was arrested shortly after arriving in Jackson, Mississippi, and he clearly remembered the hatred.

“I remember being handcuffed and walking with other prisoners. The judge who sentenced me saw me and spit on me. Judge!” Zuckerman said. “So you start to realize how terrible it is. This is not any America we think of.”

He spent 40 days in the notorious Patchman State Prison in Mississippi.

“I remember the person who distributed food in the morning. He was a large white trustee with tattoos. One day he said,’If it is up to me, I will poison every MF of you.’ Believe me, in the next For a few days, we were very nervous about our diet,” Zuchman added.

He is far from his hometown of New York City. Zuchman was inspired by his longtime baseball hero Jackie Robinson. He joined the sport. Jackie Robinson was the first black man to participate in Major League Baseball. He saw Robinson on a TV show to discuss free rides and whether the movement should end due to violence.

“At the end of the show, (Robinson) said in tears,’Look, if these young people feel that it’s time for them to stand up, what right do we have to tell them not to stand up? So I decided to volunteer to be the next day A free rider.”

Many people who participated in free riding were arrested and imprisoned

‘Determined to put their lives in danger’

Raymond Arsenault, Professor Emeritus of Southern History at the University of South Florida and author of “Freedom Rider: Struggle with Racial Justice in 1961,” said that young people who volunteered for free riding are very brave.

“In essence, they dared to stop the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists in the South,” Arseno told Al Jazeera. “They are determined to put their lives at risk. They should not sit. Where is there. Go to the wrong restroom, sit down at the wrong lunch counter in the terminal and forcefully confront.”

The movement also forced the administration of then-President John F Kennedy to review American racism at a time when the United States was more concerned about Cold War missiles than Mississippi.

In May 1961, when a Molotov cocktail was thrown from a window near Anniston, Alabama, a Liberty Knight bus caught fire. The bus, which was testing the isolation at the bus station in the south, came to a halt due to a flat tire.The passenger escaped without serious injury [File: AP Photo]

When he first heard of early free riding, 16-year-old Brown was not interested.

“A lot of them are talking about non-violence and all these things. Frankly speaking, it doesn’t appeal to me,” Brown told Al Jazeera. “I think in order to change things, you have to hurt others. That’s what I was then. Look like.”

Black, who grew up in Jackson, made Brown an angry young man. He remembers how the murder of Emmett Till in 1955 scared his community on his way when he was 10 years old, and at the same time realized that “white people can kill anyone they want to kill.” And escape punishment”.

The 14-year-old Till was beaten and killed by white men who believed he had spoken inappropriately to white women.

But as more rides entered Jackson, Brown began to change his mind.

He said: “I think it’s great that people come from all over the world.” “They explained what free riding is. I said it was cool. We should do something.”

Although Brown did not take a bus, he played an important role in Jackson’s campaign. Ignoring apartheid, organizing boycotts, spending time in prison and finding himself in what he calls a terrible situation.

“One night, the Ku Klux Klan pursued us with the help of the local police. So we jumped off the roof of a nearby building and escaped,” Brown recalled. “The Ku Klux Klan went up the stairs. They were at the front door. We were almost killed.”

On November 2, 1961, a white policeman stands next to the “White Waiting Room” sign posted outside the Greyhound Bus Terminal in McComb, Mississippi [File: AP Photo]

“I never thought we should give up”

That summer, Zuckerman and Brown often played in Jackson. Despite the huge intimidation and the initial indifference of American public opinion, the two are determined to continue.

“Do I think we will make a difference? I don’t know which way,” Zuckerman said, “but it’s already in my blood. I won’t let people treat me like that.”

“I always thought we were right. I think we can change things by calling on the conscience of the United States,” Brown said. “I never thought we should give up.”

Despite the risks, free rides continued to emerge, and eventually public opinion began to change. According to Arsenal, as news of their abuse spread, the Kennedy administration was forced to take action.

“Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev will attend his first summit in Vienna, and he was embarrassed on the front page of the newspaper,” Arseno said. “In the so-called land of freedom, people who can’t even sit in the front row of the bus.”

The U.S. federal government finally took action in November 1961 to prohibit racial segregation on the interstate bus network. Kennedy’s adoption of civil rights went beyond the real politics of the Cold War.

“There can be no John F. Kennedy in the world who did what he did in June 1963, advocating for a comprehensive civil rights bill without a free rider,” Arseno said.

79-year-old Lewis Zuchman is still working to improve the lives of communities of color [Simon Tate/Al Jazeera]

“Attitude has a lot to do with change”

As for Zuchman and Brown, they still share their experiences, appearing together in prison and school activities, and before the new generation struggles to solve their own civil rights issues. So what advice do they have for today’s activists?

Brown, 76, admitted that some young activists wanted to use some of the more radical methods he used when he was young, but now he urges a more moderate approach.

“It can be as simple as putting your arm around someone. It can be a revolutionary behavior, depending on where you are and what they did to that person,” Brown said. “So we try to make young people understand that attitude has a lot to do with change.”

As the executive director of Scan Harbor, a non-profit organization that supports disadvantaged children in New York, the 79-year-old Zuchman remains committed to improving the lives of communities of color. But he did not want to exaggerate the success of free riding.

Martin Luther King Jr. shook hands with Paul Dietrich before a Freedom Rider bus left Montgomery, Alabama on May 24, 1961 [File: AP Photo]

“On our 50th anniversary, people will say to me,’Aren’t you proud of what you have achieved?” I said, “No. “We have had some success in beauty. But since then I have been working in the city center and I only see the situation of African American and Latino young people getting worse,” he explained.

But he did admit a victory: “I think a special thing is that it brings together young people across the United States—whites, African Americans, men, women—and this is how we walk as a country. A unique moment together.”

However, Arsenault said the impact of free travel is huge.

“It not only completely changed the civil rights movement, but also changed the entire tone of civil politics in the 1960s,” he said. “Free rides really became a template for all other rights movements.”


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