MDFR Day 1 by Dr. Monika Moyrer

Day one: it started really well in Atlanta. I am excited to be part of the group and look forward to learning about the Civil Rights Movement on this tour. The first stop at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights already gave us participants an important overview of the key figures, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

However, for me personally, the highlight of the day was the meeting with Charles Person, the youngest participant of the Freedom Riders at the time. Who were the Freedom Riders and what did they do? In 1961, young black and white activists signed up to take the bus from Washington DC to New Orleans to find out whether on the way Americans would obey the Supreme Court decision that ruled segregation was unconstitutional in bus depots, waiting areas, restaurants, and restrooms. They rode in two buses through Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia and finally Alabama. The test came in Alabama, where the Freedom Riders found out that the Southern States would disregard federal law and use violence to reinforce racial segregation. Mr. Person recounted what violence they were exposed to, when, for example, a mob set a bus on fire and beat several riders nearly to death. It was an incredibly powerful and moving experience that made all the difference: reading about the Freedom Riders in the museum was interesting but meeting Charles Person and hearing a first-hand account of his experiences was inspiring.

Mr. Person, who is now 81, can still remember vividly the details and talks with dedication and conviction about his involvement with the Freedom Riders. It is impressive that he still lives by the motto “Doing nothing is not an option.” We take his action as an inspiration and a call to action, because, as was the case with him and his friends, we can change the world!

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