(All for the sake of dignity and a sandwich)
Hard to imagine that only 48 years ago today, a group of people, black and white, got on buses and rode South, attempting to bring an end to segregation in bus station waiting rooms and lunch counters. In 1961 it was illegal to mix races in social settings in the south - there were separate bathrooms, restaurants, hotels, waiting rooms, beaches. If you grew up during the end of Apartheid in South Africa, and were witness to the sweeping change that took place in the 1990's there, realize that pretty much the same atmosphere prevailed in the South in America in the 1960's. It was a horrific struggle in Alabama and Mississippi in 1961, but it was the turning point in race relations in America. When the first Freedom Riders went into Alabama, they were not greeted as liberators. Rather as agitators, communist inspired - part of some evil plot as the KKK, White Citizens Council, American Nazi Party and countless other hate groups would like to say. Buses were stoned and burned - Freedom Riders were pulled from buses and clubbed, beaten or tossed in jail on a myriad of trumped-up charges.
In response, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy sent Federal Marshals to enforce Civil Rights laws, ensuring safety of the protesters. It drew national attention and continued a struggle that began in the 1950's when the Supreme Court ruled Segregation of Public Schools was illegal. Slowly things began to change, but it was certainly not overnight. 1961 began a new era in the Civil Rights movement and it would be met with waves of violence from hate groups, bent on preserving a society where racism was the norm, a society run on fear and hate, a society doomed to implode on its own ignorance.
A segment of our society which sadly, still exists today.
Here is an NBC News Special recapping the events in Alabama in May 1961 called "Alabama USA" as well as some local (Montgomery Alabama) news reports, all as it was happening.
(Fear and Ignorance: Priceless)