The Freedom Ride Tour by Jeremy Foo

by   |  06.21.11  |  Honors Student Achievements

The Cost of Freedom Part 1

I didn’t really know what to expect when I decided to join the Freedom Ride Tour, but I jumped at the chance to travel and study at the same time. This study tour would take us over 5 states in a period of a week as we explored the psychology, sociology, and politics of the American Civil Rights Movement. As an international student, I was excited to experience and visit the different cultural sites and places from Beale Street to the Lorraine Motel.

We left Abilene and our first stop was Little Rock, Arkansas. It felt slightly surreal as I stepped of the bus and walked into a scene I’ve only seen about a dozen times in textbooks, and documentaries. The Little Rock Central High School was the ground of a very important confrontation during the Civil Rights Movement that reinforced the court ruling of Brown vs. Board of Education. The lectures and lessons of history I had learnt in the past seemed to be amplified as I walked the school grounds.

We soon made our way into Memphis, Tennessee to visit the National Civil Rights Museum; it is situated in the hotel in which Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. This historic location not only illustrated the civil rights movement, but also emphasized the cost of the a great movement that many take for granted.

The cost of freedom is not something that I have considered before, but it is now something that I will remember. There are many people in my country of Malaysia who complain that our government is not giving some of us the freedoms guaranteed in our partly British-authored constitution. However, not many of them have been pushed to the point that they would sacrifice anything at all for the freedoms that they desire. The citizens of my country would rather hold on to a false sense of harmony and racial tolerance, then push for real racial equality and unity. As I watched and read the many crimes perpetrated against the African American population, I felt a few things: shock and anger, and a deeper sense of respect and admiration. These people knew the cost of their movement, yet chose to speak out against injustice and inequality.

I watched as a white man got beaten up for sitting with the African Americans at a sit-down. I watched as Americans of different races marched alongside the African Americans during the Washington march. I watched Catholic nuns lead marches and stand between brutal police and blacks. I think this is what makes America a great nation. Its citizens are its greatest critics and define where America is today. These freedoms were something that people fought for. While the African Americans were the largest part of this movement, today I learnt that many other Americans walked alongside them. These other Americans were also abused and attacked for aiding or even being sympathetic to the de-segregators. At the end of the day, they stood strong because every one of them had counted the cost and found it worth fighting for.

My understanding of the Civil Rights Movement has been more deeply embedded by images and videos that I have never seen before. The blatant horror of the attacks and lynchings only amplified what I had only read before on paper. The stakes were high and the journey to freedom was a lot longer than I expected it to be. Sure, I knew the time periods and the people involved, but walking through that museum and being overwhelmed with what was already summarized information just nailed home the point for me. The resilience and patience of the nonviolent protestors spoke louder than the incensed white people who were attacking them. There was a huge price that was paid for America to reach where they are today. I stood in silence in front of the place with Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. In his mountaintop speech he said, “I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.” He ended up paying the ultimate price. Am I ready for to pay such a cost for the future of my own country?  This is the question that I’m left juggling with in my mind as I reflect on the amazingly rich experience of the first few days of the Freedom Ride.

To Be Continued….