Posts Tagged ‘freedomriders’

Freedom Rider Rip Patton at the Freedom Riders Marker in Bynam

Freedom Rider Rip Patton checks the monument at the site where the bus burned in Bynam, Alabama for bullet holes

Anniston made me edgy. Don’t get me wrong, the spirit of the day was pleasant, upbeat, ambitious, something just felt funny.

And when all of the town folks showed up to greet the bus, I have to say I was a little nervous. Out of all of the places on the Freedom Riders 1961 trip, I think the Anniston story scares me the most. Looking at them from the bus window, all I could think about was the passage in Freedom Riders that described how, when they pulled into town on May 14, 1961, Mother’s Day, that ‘Anniston’s sidewalks were lined with people, an unusual sight on a Sunday afternoon in a Deep South town. Rider Genevieve Hughes said “It seemed that everyone in the town was out to greet us.” Ironic, the same thing happened to us, the street was lined with the local whos-who, but thankfully they weren’t waiting to beat the crap out of us. No one said ‘Well boys, here they are.” They wanted to have us over for lunch.

Dr. Arsenault said that when he first brought students to Anniston in 2005, the police met them and wanted to know what they were up to. I laugh when I think about that, but I also recognize the amount of bravado that took. These folks just hope that the whole thing will just go away, and here’s a bus load of grad students and lawyers from out of town, looking for a place that the local folks would rather forget about. He told us that the police had to call someone to help them remember where the bus burned in Bynam, and they were escorted to what may have been the site. I’ll bet that was an uneasy moment for the local law dogs, to say the least. Soon I will write more about that whole day.

There was a reference at lunch to “burning questions,” which was unintentional and ironic.

I collapsed in the alley where the same woman pointed to what was likely the “colored entrance” to the old bus station, which is now ironically a sign shop – I thought back to the sign shop that Doug Jones talked about that fronted the Alabama Klan that bombed the 16th Street church.

My knee gave out right at the exact moment in the alley at the bus station where the Freedom Riders first got their beating when Dr. A mentioned the arrival of the Klan. I was ok, but I think I need to be holding a railing or something when people talk about the KKK, as it was the same thing I felt shooting photos in the Southern Poverty Law Center, only there I didn’t go down, I held the back of a chair, and shot pictures with both hands.

Later, a preacher blessed my knee, which was interesting. That’s never happened before.

And when we got to the Freedom Riders Monument, at the same place in Bynam that the local cops weren’t sure about five years ago, Rip Patton’s action confirmed my intuition about Anniston.

The first thing he did was check the marker for bullet holes.

That’s what you see in the picture.


Born in Selma, Catherine Burks was a 21 year-old senior at Tennessee State University when she joined the freedom rides, and her refusal to be intimidated by “Bull” Connor’s personal threats as he drove her and six companions to the Tennessee border is captured with unique accuracy in Chapter 5 of Professor Arsenault’s book. She was on the bus with Bill Harbour, John Lewis, Jim Zwerg, Susan Wilber, Susan Herman, Bernard Lafayette, William Barbee, and others in Montgomery, and during the brutal mob attack – perhaps the worst since the Anniston firebombing – she rescued some of the female riders from the mob by driving them to First Baptist Church in a taxicab which she drove herself notwithstanding the protest of the black driver. She continued her commitment to the movement by traveling with Bill Harbour, John Lewis, Jim Zwerg, and others to Chicago to raise funds for CORE, and sees the Movement, and Dr. King’s personal efforts as including empowerment by grass roots organization – directed at social and economic progress, in the footsteps of the organizational techniques of union movements

Rip Patton was a 21-year-old music major at Tennessee State University when he joined SNCC and the Nashville Movement in 1960, participating in the Lawson Workshops, the Nashville sit-ins and other protests of segregation. He joined the Freedom Rides in 1961 and was in the first group to make it to Jackson, Mississippi, where he was arrested for entering a “white only” Greyhound Bus Station waiting room. His group also included John Lewis, Hank Thomas, and Jim Farmer. The group was ultimately sent to Parchman Penitentiary. Mr. Patton was an active member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, working closely with Diane Nash and John Lewis. He knew Dr. King, Fred Shuttlesworth and C.T. Vivian and recalls the full range of stories that defined the Civil Rights Movement. He will accompany us throughout the travel course to interact with students individually and collectively.

Freedom Riders Dinner

Dinner with the Freedom Riders at the Jefferson

Four Freedom Riders share their Stories at Tennessee State

Rip Patton Civil Rights Freedom Riders Nashville Public Library

Rip Patton teaches us non-violence at the lunch counter exhibit at the Nashville Public Library.

Civil Rights Nashville Public Library

Inside the Civil Rights collection at the Nashville Public LIbrary

Kwame Lillard personifies the irrepressible spirit that defined the Nashville Movement, and is a life long advocate and activist for civil rights and the advancement of the Movement’s legacy

Next, we were joined by the very dynamic and vibrant Kwame Lillard.

Kwame and Rip took us through all of the places in downtown Nashville – starting with the alley that they used to get together in and mobilize.

Here’s a little more about Kwame, from the bio issued to us:

Kwame Lillard personifies the irrepressible spirit that defined the Nashville Movement, and is a life long advocate and activist for civil rights and the advancement of the Movement’s legacy. A devoted disciple of Jim Lawson and Kelly Miller Smith, he was significantly involved in the management of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s Nashville Movement offices, the Nashville sit-ins, and in the coordinating of the freedom rides and training of freedom riders. Kwame Lillard has challenged both Tennessee State University and the City of Nashville to remember their roots in the Movement, the recognition of the students of SNCC, and the City’s responsibility to advance the gains made possible by the Movement.  His knowledge of the history of Tennessee State University, and the Nashville Movement remains an emotional recollection, and at the same time, his advocacy has taken on a currency that shows his equally genuine passion for the legacy of the Nashville Movement and his vision for the City of Nashville.

In 1960, over 100 protestors converged on McLellan’s, Woolworth’s, Kress, and Walgreens to hold sit-ins at the segregated lunch counters. Rip Patton talked about the non-violent tactics used against segregation and how they articulated their plans. The participants of the sit-in had all participated in workshops by Rev. James Lawson. Lawson, while attending Vanderbilt Divinity School, studied the principles of non-violent resistance while working as a missionary in India.

Here are some shots of our group as we walked up Fifth Avenue North.

Nashville sit-ins

Freedom Riders 2010 head to Fifth Avenue North to remember the sit-ins in Nashville.

Lunch Counter Revisited

Lunch Counter Revisited: Freedom Riders 2010 stand and observe the places where the sit-ins in 1960 took place. Freedom Riders 2010 on Fifth Avenue North

Bone McAllester Norton

This lawyer was out on his morning jog, saw Rip, hugged him, and told us how lucky we are to be in his presence.

One of the things I had heard about this trip is that people come out of the woodwork. We weren’t downtown for five minutes when this Nashville lawyer stopped in his tracks during what looked like a morning run to hug Rip and tell us we were in the presence of greatness.

Nashville sit-ins

Our day began by revisiting the places where the Nashville sit-ins took place.

Our first day hitting the streets, Rip Patton took us on a tour of the places where events took place during the Nashville sit-ins. The Nashville sit-ins were part of a nonviolent campaign to end racial segregation at lunch counters in Nashville.