Freedom Journey retracing the path – Letter to Abilene, Texas

Freedom Journey retracing the path – Letter to Abilene, Texas

By Alvina Scott

 

 

 

Abilene, Texas has become a second home to me. The community of Abilene Christian University has blessed my life in several ways. The most recent way that I’ve been blessed at ACU is meeting Dr. Jennifer Dillman. She is a professor in the Sociology department who is very passionate about seeing that her students receive a quality education and truths we should all understand. Dr. Dillman strongly and consistently encouraged her students to attend the ACU Freedom Ride Civil Rights Tour.Today I am 21 years old and for the first time I feel knowledgeable enough to discuss events relating to the civil right movement. Being African American, I usually have felt ashamed of my limited knowledge and experience. Sadly, most of the information I’ve known regarding the Civil Rights Movement was learned from school text books. It has been less than a week since the tour ended and I’m viewing the world through new lenses.{{more}} Like most of the ACU “freedom riders”, I have been changed forever in terms of strength and wisdom.Our journey on the tour began May15, Sunday morning as twenty-two ACU students loaded the bus and headed for Little Rock, Arkansas to visit Central High school. At Central High school we stood and snapped pictures of the very place thousands of segregation supporters gathered 54 years ago with the intent to violently intimidate and prevent nine African American students from integrating with the students of Central High.Freedom Riders on the tour bus.I expressed my amazement to one of the ACU freedom riders of the large size of the high school and the four statues out front which represented “ambition”, “personality”, “opportunity”, and “preparation.” Her reply was, “Yes, it’s very beautiful. But it wasn’t built for us.” Then I began to realize how absolutely everything that I enjoy and value has come with a cost that someone has had to pay.The professors who coordinated the tour, , made sure we had literature to read regarding the Civil Rights Movement in each city and state we were headed to. While traveling we watched several deeply informative and emotional documentaries all relative to the Civil Rights Movement. We learned, listened to and sang freedom songs during the ride as well. There is always knowledge to gain. I learned this lesson very well as we continued to Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis during the time he was determined to lead a city wide boycott to support the strike of sanitation workers of color. We learned of the consistency and determination as well as the compassion and integrity King put forth to lead a movement through nonviolence. At the Lorraine Hotel Museum, ACU’s freedom riders learned of several strategies used to change laws that divided America and oppressed the American people. Developing and implementing nonviolence strategies to change unjust laws upheld by state governors, mayors, policemen and thousands of citizens required freedom fighters to understand that like the Biblical scripture says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” . The thousands who chose to fight for civil rights through nonviolence understood that although they were participating in sit-ins, boycotts and marches for equal treatment of people of color, they were fighting something much greater than what they could see physically. The many injustices with our government system concern me. However, I have understood that there are methods to overcome injustices. With education, unity and organization, people can make lasting changes in their community. Dr. Martin Luther King may have been the most vocal but it was thousands of people both white and black who made the changes happen. When King died so many believed that the movement would stop. But what they did not understand is that the dreamer could be killed but the dream would continue. King represented the people who wanted change so therefore the dream did not end with him. ACU freedom riders also took numerous pictures of the last church King spoke and delivered his ‘I have been to the Mountain Top’ speech. Another freedom rider and I actually got left behind by our group and the security locked us in the church! As embarrassing as this moment was we were still proud to be in Mason Temple Church.We were in Alabama for so long I felt that I belonged there. That’s what a good, memorable experience can do for you. Every tour guide had been very warm and welcoming. We explored 16th Baptist church in Birmingham where the four girls died as a result of a church bombing. We explored the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church ChaRonn Williams, Jennifer Watson and Alvina Scott at a historical barber shop a block over from Martin Luther King’s home on 309 South Jackson Street in Montgomery. & Parsonage in Montgomery where Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr. pastored from 1954-1960 and began his fight for civil rights. I believe that the highlight of the entire tour for most of the ACU freedom riders would be meeting in person the original Freedom Riders, Jim Zwerg and Dr. Bernard Lafayette. While each spoke it seemed as if they were re-living parts of their past so they could give us an accurate picture of what happened. Both discussed what nonviolence actually meant. Zwerg said ‘nonviolence’ is unconditional love toward those who hate you. Dr. Lafayette said nonviolence involved listening. ‘Listening’ meant understanding the other perspective. Both original Freedom Riders encouraged us to continue fighting for equality because injustices are still continuing. Visiting the Tuskegee Institute museum helped me understand some problems within America’s black communities currently. I did not know much of George Washington Carver or Booker T. Washington’s works before the tour. Consequently, I understand to a greater depth how important it is for minority children to know who other successful minority people were and are today. There are so many children who are not fortunate enough to have involved, influential adults in their lives and meanwhile their school text books are discussing successes and ideas of people who do not look like them. I strongly believe this is a problem that needs to change to increase the quality of children’s education. The Civil Rights Movement was lead by young people during that Jeremy Foo, Rebecca Dials, Jared Perkins, ChaRonn Williams, and Alvina Scott in Memphis, TN.time. Three hundred young men and women both white and black traveled down to the south on buses with the intention of bringing about change in southern states where resistance to the movement was the firmest. The freedom fighters that went to the Deep South suffered and made it through what may have been the most inhumane treatment that hatred could cause. Walking through the museums, I was appalled at the tactics used by hate organizations, local leaders and national leaders to prevent peaceful demonstrations and harm peaceful civil rights organizations. We have come a long way since then but there are definitely prejudice attitudes that have not changed. I wish I could explain every experience I had on the Freedom Ride Civil Rights Tour. Just know that it was amazing. We spent seven days studying events relating to the Civil Rights Movement and met several people who made the difference. The tour ended in Jackson, Mississippi where we had dinner with Hollis Watkins, a civil rights activist; co-founder and president of Southern Echo. Southern Echo is a community organizer for racial and economic justice. Hollis Watkins was the first Mississippi student involved in the Mississippi Voting Rights of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.The experience has opened my eyes to what greed, selfishness and hatred can do to both the victim and oppressor. Although people of color are becoming more successful than in the past, children of color are still behind and struggling in the school system. This is an issue that the integration of children’s school was supposed to improve. Every community has its issues. I just hope that the Abilene community will put more focus on helping all at-risk children gain their education and find their identity. So what will I do with this knowledge I now have? I will start by sharing it with my little brothers and the kids I work with in the after school summer program internship I have been blessed to receive.