UMW Celebrates Freedom Rides
By: JULIE DYMON
President Rick Hurley, Chief of Staff Martin Wilder and a team of faculty are leading the university in a semester-long commemoration of James Farmer and the Freedom Riders.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, and UMW has secured a host of guest speakers, classes and events in celebration of the sacrifices made by dedicated Americans for the advancement of civil rights.
Farmer organized the Freedom Rides of 1961 in which Americans of all races protested racial segregation by riding together on Greyhound buses from Washington D.C. through the Deep South.
Though riders were threatened, burned, beaten, jailed or killed, over 400 Americans participated in the Freedom Rides. These Americans and their sacrifices succeeded in defeating Jim Crow laws (state laws that segregated and denied the civil liberties of African Americans).
The Freedom Rides Commemorative Kickoff is scheduled for Feb. 7, at noon in Ball Circle. Special Assistant to the President for Diversity and Inclusion Leah Cox suggests this is a must-see event with a surprise in store for those in attendance.
Cox states that her goal during this semester at UMW is for students to “gain a general appreciation for the historical perspective of the Freedom Rides…there were a lot of people who chose to endanger their lives and their livelihood to make sure we all have a seat on the bus.”
“Documenting Social Movements” is a communications class that Professor Anand Rao designed specifically for this semester. This class introduces the major figures of this crucial moment of the American Civil Rights Movement. It focuses on how this and other social movements are documented through text, film and photography.
Rao describes this semester at UMW as “an amazing opportunity for students to get involved as they will have access to speakers, film makers, authors and activists who were there.”
The Freedom Riders Movie Gala will premiere award winning director Stanley Nelson’s documentary “Freedom Riders,” courtesy of PBS prior to its May 2011 airing in the American Experience series.
Rao previewed the documentary last year and believes the premiere at UMW will be a unique and moving event.
Rao is looking forward to the unveiling of the museum exhibit created and displayed by UMW’s Museum Studies Exhibit class in the Dodd Foyer. Both of these events are scheduled for March 30 at 7 p.m. in Dodd Auditorium and Dodd foyer respectively.
Professor Tim O’Donnell is teaching a communication class titled “Freedom Riders” this semester in conjunction with UMW’s semester-long recognition of the riders.
O’Donnell states that “this class is not a history class”. He describes his class as providing students with an “opportunity and ability to uncover or recover some of the lost stories of significant figures.” He wants students to grapple with questions like “Would you get on the bus today? What would you get on the bus for?”
Regarding this semester at UMW, O’Donnell says that it “is something extraordinary, as we can give voice to Farmer’s legacy here. He was the architect of the movement. He wasn’t just the person who designed the Freedom Rides. He was the person who laid down a plan, a road map to bring about social change over the next thirty years in this country. That’s the part that is lost on Farmer.”
O’Donnell encourages students to attend the debate between Hampton University and UMW students on April 1 at 4 p.m. at Lee Hall, room 411. The statement posed for the debate is “Today’s Students Wouldn’t Get on the Bus.”
From May 6 to May 16, PBS, as part of their American Experience series, will launch the 2011 Student Freedom Ride bus tour. This bus tour will include original Freedom Riders along with 40 college students who will earn their place on the bus through an application and selection process.
UMW administration has arranged for the Freedom Ride bus tour to stop at UMW on its journey to retrace the route of the 1961 Freedom Rides from Washington D.C. to Jackson, Mississippi. Both O’Donnell and Rao confirmed that several UMW students have applied to be among the forty students on the 2011 Student Freedom Ride bus.
Winning students will be announced in February. The symbolic bus will pull into UMW for a brunch and commemoration at the James Farmer campus memorial on May 8.
The celebration of Farmer and the Freedom Rides began with keynote speaker Nontombi Naomi Tutu, Desmond Tutu’s daughter, yesterday in Dodd Auditorium.
Tutu grew up during apartheid in South Africa and has been a human rights activist since she began sharing her experiences through public speaking in college. “Our Shared Humanity: Creating Understanding Through the Principles of MLK” is the lecture she shared with the UMW community.
UMW also continues its James Farmer commemorative postage stamp campaign that began in fall 2010.
Farmer is recognized as a one of the most significant leaders of the civil rights movement alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney Young, and Roy Wilkins.
Farmer is the only leader who has not yet been celebrated with a U.S. postage stamp.
Eric Etheridge, author of “Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Freedom Riders,” will speak at the Great Hall, Woodard Campus Center on Feb. 7, 7 p.m.
UMW’s “Great Lives Series” features lecturer Raymond Arsenault, author of “Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice.” Arsenault’s book was the basis for the PBS documentary “Freedom Riders.” The lecture will be followed by a discussion with a panel of Freedom Riders on March 31, 7:30 p.m. in Dodd Auditorium.
Andy Lewis, author of “The Shadows of Youth: The Remarkable Journey of the Civil Rights Generation,” will visit UMW classes and student groups on March 30-31. Andy Lewis will address the public regarding the power of student activism on March 31, at 3 p.m., at a location yet to be determined.
Freedom Rider and Congressman John Lewis will give the commencement address on the Fredericksburg Campus on May 7, Ball Circle.
All events are open to the public.