Segregation then and now, from Ben White
Israel's creation of "Palestinians-only" bus lines in the occupied territories-- so that Jews and Palestinians don't mix when traveling-- has become a global story. People are paying attention, because the racism is so disturbing.
The story reminds us of the Jim Crow South, and a heroic chapter of American history: the Freedom Rides, when young people contested the segregation of bus lines and the stations serving them across the South. Many of those idealists were beaten or worse; and the civil rights we enjoy today are a testament to their sacrifice.
What follows is a story about how witnessing racism can change someone's life. In June 1961, the Freedom Rides were heating up, and the late William M. Kunstler was traveling cross-country when the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union asked him to stop in Mississippi "and tell the black lawyer that's handling cases that the ACLU stands behind him."
Kunstler told the story of his visit to Sarah Kunstler and Aimee Pohl-Deming. It was published by Michael Steven Smith in his book Lawyers We Love (Smyrna Press, 1999).
I landed in Jackson, Mississippi, on June 15, 1961, and the next day I went to the office of Jack Young. I said, "I'm here to offer you the regards of the ACLU."
He replied, "I don't want regards, I need lawyers. I'm going crazy. If you want to see something that will make you want to do this, go down to the Greyhound bus terminal. There's going to be an arrest."
More than a hundred Freedom Riders had been arrested in Mississippi and Jack Young was the only lawyer working for them.
He sent me down to the Greyhound bus terminal and the place was filled with cops. CORE [the Congress of Racial Equality] had this action called Operation Mixer and Captain William Ray from the Jackson Police Department had the whole place ringed with police officers. I went to have something to eat at the lunch counter and wait, and then the police ordered everyone, including me, to clear the waiting room. All of a sudden, the back door opened and in came five young people, three white young women, a white man, and a young black man, all scared to death. They went and sat down at the lunch counter I had just left, and then they were swooped up and arrested because they had ridden on an interstate bus together. The mayor had ordered the police to arrest the bus riders.
Once I saw that, I went back to Young's office and I said, "I'm yours. I'm going to be a lawyer, not just bring you regards from the ACLU." That was the start of it. I never forgot that day, my brother's birthday, June 16, 1961. I didn't realize it then, but there was going to be a change in my whole life.
I knew I had to get those five young people out of jail....
When I arrived in Jackson, 111 riders had been arrested, and before I left in late August, over 400 had been arrested. It was impossible to get a fair trial for the hundreds of arrested riders given the hostile climate of the South at that time.
How many of us have had these feelings when we go to Palestine and witness apartheid and know that we have to do something? Read Scott's story, "The Boy on the Horse."