Posts Tagged ‘rippatton’

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.

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.

Standing on his shoulders: Rip Patton on Jubilee Hall steps

Standing on his shoulders

The photo to above is Rip Patton on the steps of Jubilee Hall at Fisk, on June 7.

You could feel the spirit at Fisk. We stood on the lawn in front of a statue of W.E.B. Du Bois as Dr. Arsenault explained that Fisk was opened in Nashville in 1866 to offer education to newly freed slaves. All of but two of the original Jubilee Singers were former slaves. When the school needed to raise money, they created a choir that toured, hoping to raise money, and they did so well that funds were eventually used to build Jubilee Hall.

Our day was especially moving when Rip and classmate Cynthia Mott performed two freedom songs at the Fisk Chapel, “Buses are Coming,” and “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.” Time had the opposite effect it did during the sit-in exercise, it went by too quickly and I didn’t want the songs to end. I had gone upstairs to shoot crowd shots of the class in the chapel, and was in the perfect place to record their songs. Cynthia and I got to know each other on this trip, this was a true moment for her.

I thought about the role of music in their lives, in my life. Later, Rip Patton explained to me that the ‘turn me around’ song was one that they really depended on to keep them going. I feel like that song, that day was a gift, and I sing it now to myself all the time.

Next, we went to listen to John Seigenthaler talk at the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt. At 83, Seigenthaler remembered the incidents of the Freedom Rides as though they happened last week. He told us the story of the call he got from RFK when the Attorney General asked, “Who in the hell is Diane Nash?” He recounted what it was like to get hit in the head with a pipe at the Montgomery bus station, and how he laid under a car for something like 20 minutes, bleeding, until he was rescued.

The best thing about Seigenthaler though may have been his candor as he relayed the metamorphosis the Kennedys went through. So early in their administration, they were faced with racial issues at a time when they were focused on the Soviets, Cuba, and foreign affairs. He talked about how RFK really truly changed when he came into contact with the events in the south. And how he, as a Federal Agent who was powerless against the hatred for blacks in Montgomery, changed as well.

Later, we made it to Birmingham and were welcomed by the law firm Haskell-Slaughter so we could listen to attorney Doug Jones. Jones was a US Attorney who served as a special prosecutor in the State of Alabama vs. Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr, and State of Alabama vs. Bobby Frank Cherry, where defendants were convicted of murdering four young black girls in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Jones made the trial about the church as a victim, and the four girls as a victim and told us about the witnesses who eventually came forward to testify against Blanton and Cherry.

I chose this photo to represent Fisk, Vanderbilt, and our first night in Birmingham. I heard the quote, “Standing on the shoulders of those who helped bring about change,” at some point on this trip, and although it stuck with me, I’m not sure who to attribute it too. But I can tell you all of us stood on Rip’s shoulders all week. The day I took this, we stood on John Seigenthaler’s shoulders and Doug Jones’ shoulders as well.

Cynthia and Rip

Cynthia and Rip

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.

Oh man, the movie. But wait – let me tell you how we got there.  And I’m wiped out.

We all arrived in Nashville this afternoon. At 5:30 we met in a conference room and began orientation.

After some introduction we watched the Freedom Riders movie based on Dr. Arsenault’s book. Saying it is incredibly powerful is an understatement. I’m at a rare loss for words really. You have to see it.  Let’s just say I can’t believe this happened here in the United States such a short time ago. Throngs of people in the street attacking college students who were testing a law. Diane Nash’s gorgeous young face and her intensity both in the imagery from 1961 and her interviews today.  Bull Conner and just how unbelievable it was that he was the reality of Alabama law enforcement, and not a charicture. The governor of Alabama admitting he lied to the Kennedys, his whole interview. John Seigenthaler and now I really can’t wait to meet him, he’s so candid in this film you feel like he is in the room. The imagery from this film will stay with me forever, especially a brief shot of the bus in flames in Birmingham, the images of the beaten Freedom Riders on the ground, and faces. So many faces. So much to process. Reading about it has been one thing, the film takes you right inside the buses, churches, deep south, prison…

And then there’s Rip. Tonight we met Rip Patton – a Freedom Rider who is doing the entire journey. There’s something very cool about him, I am looking forward to talking with him and listening to him. Rip will be on the bus with us for the whole trip – and they leave the seat next to him empty so that we can take turns sitting with him and talking with him, asking questions, whatever we like. Here’s his biography.

Ernest “Rip” Patton (Group discussion facilitator and mentor):
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 Rider Rip Patton

Nashville Freedom Riders Rip Patton (left) and Bernard LaFayette (aisle) with Jim Lawson seated behind them on the bus headed into Jackson MS with National Guard troops standing guard.