Wednesday, March 26, 2014

On Courage

I'm still reading Parting the Waters in my free time, which is about the Civil Rights Movement from 1958-1963.  At 1,088 pages, I expect to be reading this book for some time (Amazon tells me I am 43% through the book).  That's fine by me.  While covering a difficult subject, this book is quickly moving up the ranks as one of the best nonfiction books I've ever read (although still a long way from unseating What It Takes and The Corner in my #1 and #2 spots).

In reading, I realized just how little I knew about this time period.  The simultaneous and rarely coordinated actions of SCLC, SNCC, and CORE.  The timeline from bus boycott to sit-in to Freedom Rides.  Despite receiving a great public school education and even taking a course in African-American History in college, I still had all of these distinct facts, events, and people jumbled together.

In reading this book, I am most fascinated by the Freedom Rides.  Imagine being 17 and getting on a bus from Nashville, through Alabama, into Mississippi.  Now imagine being black and it being 1961.  Riding the bus was an act of courage in itself, but at each segregated bus stop, the Freedom Riders would get off and sit in the "whites only" section, use the "whites only" bathroom, or find other means to breach the rules of segregation.  This was not the sleepy under-utilized bus station of the 21st Century.  These were hot-spots of activity.  The book notes that shortly after word of the Freedom Riders hit Alabama, upwards of 2,000 to 3,000 angry segregationists would crowd around the station before its arrival.

That's what took my breath away.  Sitting on a bus traveling through an angry mob of 3,000 people and willing yourself to get up.  Working towards an unpopular cause with an uncertain outcome and forfeiting your life and safety in the process.  These men and women were beaten.  In fact, based on my reading, it was the exception for there to be a Freedom Ride stop go without some act of violence against the riders.  As one rider would fall, another would step in their place, moving further towards the obstructed goal, whether that was a whites-only bathroom or a whites-only food counter.

With that history, how can any one of us justify backing down from what is right?  That's the question I'm left with.  Our inconveniences are slight compared to the height of courage shown in the 1960's and throughout our Country's history.  I certainly would never compare myself to these courageous individuals, but we should not let that blunt the avenues of inspiration.  If they were willing to do that, what am I willing to do?  For what?

Take the time to learn about the Civil Rights Movement.  Not just a few quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The entire movement.  Including people like us.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!