Widgets Magazine

Freedom Riders inspire, encourage activism

Black History Month kicked off at Stanford Monday evening with a panel of three of the original Freedom Riders, civil rights activists who participated in the iconic Freedom Rides, a series of bus trips from Washington, D.C., to the Deep South in 1961.

 

Freedom Ride participants Rip Patton, Helen Singleton and Dr. Bob Singleton joined moderator Clayborne Carson, professor of history, on a panel hosted by the Stanford NAACP, Black Student Union, History Department and the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute.

 

“We want to get the student body to think about [the history of our civil rights] and to get students to see they can influence the system,” said Shawn Dye ‘14, chair of the Stanford NAACP political action committee. “The Freedom Riders were our age when they were [fighting for our civil rights].”

 

During the half-hour panel, the Freedom Riders shared personal stories and reasons for embarking on their history-making journey.

 

Helen Singleton recounted how traveling with her family informed her participation in the Rides.

 

“We were happy until we got to Washington, D.C.,” Helen Singleton said. “And as we pulled out of Washington and headed into Virginia, we could feel the tension in the car, because here was my father who was nervous because he was going into territory where he couldn’t protect his family.”

 

So when the opportunity came in the spring of 1961 for students to protest racial discrimination, the Singletons and Patton decided to join.

 

“When the [first] bus got burned and the second bus got beat up and the third bus got beat up and they called for more because they wanted the Rides to continue and show that violence would not overcome non-violence, it was a no-brainer for me,” Helen Singleton said.

 

Little deterred the panelists or their fellow activists from continuing the Rides.

 

“Each group that was arrested, they would be put in the paddy wagon,” Patton said. “And they would sing ‘We Shall Overcome.'”

 

The panelists also had words of advice for young idealists seeking to change the injustices they witness in the world.

 

“There’s no love in iPods; there’s no love in computers. We didn’t have those things … we had each other, we had love,” Patton said. “We need to get away from [the gadgets], either get away from them or learn how to use them to find a way for this country to move forward.”

 

“What was overt at that time is covert now. Many of the discriminations, we could stare them down. Now, they’re hidden,” Bob Singleton said. “They still discriminate … [so] you have to get together and ask yourself, ‘How do we combat [this]?'”

 

His wife had a more direct advice.

 

“Whatever pisses you off, that’s your issue,” she said to laughter and applause.

 

Finally, the speakers called on young people to remember that much remains to be improved in racial equality.

 

“Dr. King didn’t die getting a civil rights bill,” Carson reminded the audience at the end of the panel. “He died fighting for sanitation in Memphis. And those are issues we still haven’t dealt with.”

About Edward Ngai

Edward Ngai is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. Previously, he has worked as a news desk editor, staff development editor and columnist. He was president and editor-in-chief of The Daily for Vol. 244 (2013-2014). Edward is a junior from Vancouver, Canada studying political science. This summer, he is the Daniel Pearl Memorial Intern at the Wall Street Journal.