Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Freedom Riders by Ann Bausum

Before the Presidential Election, there were a few rumors floating around the hallways about now President-Elect Obama. One said that students would have to go to school longer if Obama was elected. Another said African Americans would get all the tax breaks. One more said that he would be impeached if elected. Rumors are a lot like weeds. They spread fast, but don't usually have deep roots or much substance.

Both Democrats and Republicans recognized the significance of Barak Obama being the first African American elected as the 44th President of the United States on the historic night of Nov. 4th, 2008. Many people were interviewed that night to comment on the important moment in our country's history, but one person especially captured my attention. His name is John Lewis.

Both interviewers referred to the sufferings and struggles John Lewis experienced in the early 1960s in the fight to get all African Americans the right to vote. (Today there seems to be a new problem, those who are eligible to vote don't always exercise their right. This year's election was a tremendous exception. High voter turnout was one of the key factors that helped Barak Obama win the election.)

In the book, Freedom Riders, by Ann Bausum, the author traces the story of two men, John Lewis and Jim Zwerg during a tumultuous period of the civil rights movement, as they fought for civil rights and fought against the Jim Crow laws of the southern states. The name Jim Crow came from an unflattering depiction of a black man who would dance on command. Jim Crow was a phrase used to describe laws that prevented blacks from participating equally in the same things whites had a right to do. These laws not only made it difficult for African Americans to vote, but also segregated them from many of the things we take for granted, such as eating in the restaurrant of our choice, sitting in any seat we choose on a bus, sitting anywhere in a movie theater we would like, being able to buy pop (soda) from the same machine as everyone else.

John Lewis and Jim Zwerg tried to do something about it. They were involved in lunch counter sit-ins. They also participated in stand-in demonstrations in which they got in line to buy tickets into a movie theater. When they were denied entrance, they would simply go back in line and do it all over again, creating a major wait for any white person trying to get in. John and Jim were able to achieve some victories as rules about lunch counters and movie theaters changed, but more had to be done. Then the Freedom Rides were organized. They decided to challenge the Jim Crow laws segrating blacks and whites on buses. On one such ride they expected the worst. Some of the Freedom Riders even made out their wills before embarking on their trip into the south. Zwerg, the lone white man in the group had even more to worry about. The mobs of those who attacked the Freedom Rider's bus "with their baseball bats, metal pipes, lengths of rubber hose, pieces of chain, hammers and sticks" would vengefully take out their wrath on the lone white Freedom Rider. When they stepped out of their bus in Birmingham, Alabama, Lewis was knocked unconcious by a wooden crate, but Zwerg suffered far worse. [show pic of Lewis with MLKjr on p.55] As the mob approached, Zwerg bowed his head and prayed. This is how he tells it: "I immediately felt a presence with me...And a calm and a peace came over me that I knew if I lived or if I died, it was okay. It was gonna be all right." Then the mob commenced beating him. [p. 51] So many of the mob focused their attention on Zwerg that many Freedom Riders were able to escape. (Where were the police you might be wondering.)

So, when John Lewis gave his comments on the night of Nov. 4, 2008 (over 47 years after the Freedom Rides) you can understand why he and many others were celebrating Obama's victory with tears of joy. He fought the good fight in bringing our country closer together as one America. I highly recommend this book for those of you who are not familiar with the Civil Rights Movement and like books about American History.

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