Before retracing the steps of some of the Freedom Riders from 1961, a Charlotte youth group heard first-hand what it was like to make that perilous trip during the civil rights era.
Original Freedom Rider Charles Jones addressed members of the QC Family Tree youth group last week about his experiences riding buses through the South. They were protesting states’ failures to enforce Supreme Court decisions ruling that segregation in interstate public bus travel was unconstitutional.
Next Saturday, four chaperones and 12 members of the youth group will head south through Atlanta, Birmingham, Ala., Jackson, Miss., and Selma, Ala., mimicking the same route the Freedom Riders took.
The meeting with Jones took place last Wednesday night during the group’s meeting at the house of Greg and Helms Jarrell, who founded the small nonprofit in the Enderly Park neighborhood to “inspire, enrich, and embody community” using Christian values.
“I was the scaredest I’ve ever been,” Jones said of approaching Anniston, Ala., where Freedom Rider buses were bombed just days before. “I’m going, ‘Oh lord. What’s going to happen now? Please lord,’” Jones said. But Greyhound called the bus driver instructing him not to stop, to continue on to Birmingham. Jones chuckled: “I said, ‘Yes! Thank you Jesus!’”
But then you have things like that church shooting that happened. You know that some people ... still do things like that, still hate you.
Zarya Brooks, 13
To prepare for their own trip, the youth group also visited the Levine Museum of the New South and watched the PBS documentary “Freedom Riders.”
Members of the youth group are expecting a mix of emotions during the trip. “I think I’m gonna feel inspired to do something more and change what’s happening now,” said Samia Dillard, 12.
“I’m gonna have probably mood swings about it,” said Kiara Anthony, 13. “Horrible stuff happened to them, and I don’t want to ever experience that, but at the same time I want to learn more.”
This is the ninth year the group has taken a summer enrichment trip, but the first time it has been about “living history,” Greg Jarrell said. “We are in large part motivated by the new wave of ... a civil rights movement happening across the country.”
How does the group see racial tension today versus 1961? “It’s not the same, but it’s not different,” said Sanyika Dillard, 17. “Now, it’s hidden ... It’s hard to trust people.”
“It’s there in the little things,” said Zarya Brooks, 13. “People barely notice it, but ... it really hurts sometimes knowing that people don’t like you because of something that you can’t help.”
Capwell: 704-358-6194; Twitter, @jessicacapwell
To learn more about volunteering or donating to QC Family Tree: www.qcfamilytree.org