Then and now.

June 19th, 2021

Today we were honored to meet with another Freedom Rider, Ernest “Rip” Patton. He was part of the student movement from Nashville that desegregated the businesses in the city, and continued the Freedom Rides after the first groups had been shut down in Alabama. He was ultimately arrested in Mississippi, and sent to Parchman Prison, the only high security prison in that state. At the end of his presentation I asked how he might wish our response to police violence and racial injustice in the last year might have been more effective, if we had followed some of the ideas from his generation. First, he condemned all the violence, looting and rioting. But he also said he personally believed that George Floyd was a God planned sacrifice for the sake of opening the eyes of our nation, and the world to continued injustices, both in our country, and around the world. If he had only been arrested for his counterfeit bill, this never would have made the news at all. But just like his city of Nashville, Dr. Patton believes that the incident in Minnesota was God sent. Are we listening to the message?    Roseann Sachs

Day 8 – 20890

June 19th, 2021

Freedom Rider and sit-in activist Dr. Ernest “Rip” Patton spoke with us about his Civil Rights era experiences today. His dynamic presence filled the Civil Rights Room at the Nashville Public Library. I have been so impressed with all of the heroes who have shared with us on this tour. They have been generous with their time and energy as they exerted emotional labor, sharing vulnerably and reliving the trauma of their experiences.

Dr. Patton participated in sit-is in Nashville, Tennessee alongside activists like John Lewis, Bernard Lafayette, and Jim Farmer. He learned nonviolent tactics with Rev. Jim Lawson. He was in the 3rd group of Freedom Riders to leave Nashville on May 23, 1961. He taught us specific tactics of the movement and the long-term repercussions of civil rights activists’ arrests.

Dr. Patton was eventually arrested and moved to Parchman Penitentiary in Mississippi. His arrest number was 20890. Employing the “Jail, No Bail” tactic, he and 26 other Freedom Riders refused bail to fill jails. In Parchman, the student activists faced hardships including once-a-week showers, crowded cells, and prison guards removing their mattresses. This removal meant sleeping on a concrete floor or metal frame of the bunk beds.

To maintain morale, they changed the lyrics to popular Civil Rights songs (which often originated as songs from enslaved people or as gospel music). For example, “Ain’t gonna let no mattress turn me around, Turn me around, Turn me around…” To remind themselves that they were standing alongside other activists, they sang, “Buses are Comin’” and listed cities where Freedom Riders were riding. When prison guards told them to stop singing, Bernard Lafayette turned to other activists and stage whispered, “What are they going to do, throw us in jail?!”

Singing these songs was important for increasing morale but also for combatting the humiliating experiences of arrest and imprisonment. Singing allowed activists to remain a sense of dignity and empowerment.

Dr. Rip reminded us of the long-term repercussions of Civil Rights activism. You had a prison record, which you had to report in job applications. It set back your college careers. Universities like Tennessee State University (TSU) expelled students who participated in activism like the Freedom Rides. When eventually readmitted, class credits were taken off their transcripts! Decades later, in 2008, TSU did grant these Freedom Riders honorary doctorates.

I am fascinated with the tactics of the Civil Rights Movement because I want to learn from these human rights activists for inspiration for current and future social movements. In addition to singing and refusing bail, they also employed daydream thinking to endure violence peacefully. Jim Lawson taught them to daydream while in hostile situations, i.e. if white Southerners were pressing lit cigarettes to burn your skin, leaving permanent scars. A brilliant but heartbreaking tactic.

Eighth Day – Icing on the cake

June 19th, 2021

Spending time with Dr. Patton today was the icing on the cake. We met him at a public library in Nashville where the setting of the place I was seated at was like a lunch counter that the sit-ins would have been like.

As soon as he started talking to us I knew we were in for a treat. He started by already quizzing us on the whole trip on this that we have already seen that we should have known. We were not as smooth as we were supposed to be.

I think I mentioned on the blog before this that I had no clue that Nashville had a rich history like that. Dr. King even visited Nashville not to protest or anything but to admire the beautiful work that they have been doing.

He taught us the power of coming together in one accord to fight for a common goal. Children came together to go fight for justice because their parents were at work and the parents were the main ones that provided for the family. I applaud this because it shows the power of coming together.

Not only did Dr. Patton teach us about the history of the movement but he taught us how we should always protest peacefully and manners.

What I mean about that is, Dr. Patton spoke on how as humans if we fight fire with fire then there is no solution in the fight. But to fight the fight with what we see on the bible which is being strong courageous, brave, and do what Jesus would’ve done.

The icing on the cake. I enjoyed our time with him, even learned the rotation of food on the table.

Nathan Ncube

Seventh Day- Rich place

June 19th, 2021

Another day in the Southside of the country to be educated and listen. I did not expect Tennessee to be such a richly historic place other than the assassination of Dr. King. Something else I thought was cool was how there is a line that divides the state in terms of time zones.

When we started the day I knew it was going to be a hard one to take in. When you hear about stories of heroes like Dr. King it’s definitely way different when you have people who know what they talking about educating you on the history.

The National Civil Rights Museum itself was so educational. When most hotels were for whites only Lorraine Motel welcomed African America even though it was heavily segregated in the South. It had all these quotes from different people. Even some of the artists from Stax that we learned about from the Stax museum stayed there often.

Walking around the museum, it had historic information all that way to how the slave trade happened, who was part of it, and regions from Africa that people were taken from. This was a good intro to the start of the tour in the museum because it gave a picture at the end of what people were fighting for. Seeing some things that the slaves used to entertain themselves or console that we still use back at home was very sad.

Fast forward to where Dr. King stayed, it was a nice spot that he had. He was having a good time while waiting to hear a word from Rev Kyles. When they were about to live that’s when he was taken away from us physically but everything he taught and the dream is still alive.

I might have to move to Nashville one day or make it a vacation spot.

The National Museum of African American Music was another cool experience. Definitely one of my favorite places that we visited. There we so many people that I recognized that were on the posters in the museum. Ms. Rutha Harris was one of them.

We also got the opportunity to listen to various genres of music and from different time periods.

Nathan Ncube

Dr. Rip Patton

June 19th, 2021

Today we had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Rip Patton, who was a Freedom Rider. Throughout his time speaking, Dr. Patton continued to say that Nashville was a “godsend” and I can definitely say that I can agree. In learning all that came and was influenced by the efforts and work of students, ministers, and organizations from Nashville, this city and its people from the movement have become great inspirations to me. The intellect, strategy, and creativity, while upholding the teachings of Gandhi and Christ throughout their work, has been very moving from me, and the more I learn, the more I want to know about the people from Nashville and all that came from it during this movement. Hearing from Dr. Patton directly on why he decided to join the movement, was touching. Hearing how his experiences and that of many others have fueled him to create change rather than vengeance and resentment is not only a testament of who he is but also is a theme I have noticed among many others we have spoken to. I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Patton personally at the restaurant, and the advice given by him as to how to sustain, organize a movement was very powerful, and I look forward to speaking with, and gaining wisdom from him in the future.

Not Done Yet

June 19th, 2021

The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel was one of the most extensive, and largest civil rights museums we visited on the trip. It did a wonderful job of giving space, tribute, and close detail to so many impactful stories and time frames throughout American history that directly affected black Americans. I greatly appreciated the inclusion of the Black Power Movement, with mentions of the Black Panthers, Huey Newton, Stokley Carmichael, Malcon X, and more. The attention it gave to the efforts by these people (to name a few) to achieve economic freedom and equity through means within the black community but also on a political and institutional level is one that I haven’t seen in other museums and is a piece of history that is essential in understanding the efforts and sacrifices made by black Americans to achieve justice, peace, and equality throughout the nation. The mention of efforts to economically revive and free black Americans is one that is of great interest and significance to me. In even visiting a number of the places that we have, I was both amazed and saddened by what I saw. Amazed at the deep, incredible, history of these cities that we visited, that show and still hold the memories of the dedication, courage, intelligence, and resistance of our people. Amazed at how extraordinary and fervent the members of these communities were, and continue to be. Saddened to see that we still have such a long road ahead of us in the attainment of justice and equity, even in communities that risked their lives and gave their all to get to where we are. Black Americans put so much into their communities, the places that these historical events took place, and yet, we again, have been exhausted. Efforts on the institutional level have continued to disenfranchise, and continue the system of underresourced, underdeveloped, and overexploited communities, that largely affect black and browns. To see the information and read about what the Black Panther and Black Power parties did to fight the system and fight to get economic justice from the group up, was both encouraging and motivating. It put a stronger desire in me to continue researching what needs to be done, studying the works of Dr. King and these parties in their strategies and actions to attain fair housing policies, education equality, wealth distribution, and continue to lobby and advocate, so that I can be apart of the change that I know is going to come. It is tiring seeing black Americans face injustice after injustice, oppression after oppression, from a government and democracy that is loved, but intentional in generationally keeping us disatvantaged. “And you know my friends, there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled by the iron feet of oppression” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We are tired, but hopeful, we are tired, but resistant, we are tired, but not done.

The day concluded with visiting the National Museum of African American Music. It was a wonderful interactive museum that I will definitely have to come back to. It outlined how music was shaped and influenced by experiences, stories and struggles that were taking place during various time periods. Music has always been something I understood as a foundational aspect of black culture, stories, and resistence, but on this trip, I have had a greater sense of love and appreciation for the variety of and impact that music created by black people has had on our stories, but also American culture and lives as a whole.

Music for the Soul

June 19th, 2021

What a great opportunity it was to be in a space where so much healing for the soul took place. We had the pleasure of visiting the Stax Museum, the very site where the Stax recording studio and label resided. Soul music is such a powerful aspect of black culture, but also is representative of how music unifies. Stax represented an escape, a refuge, where art and joy could coincide interracially, for all to enjoy. Jim Stewart, the co-founder of Stax stated it perfectly what Stax represented for music, culture, and those who had the opportunity to be a part of it, “…We were sitting in the middle of a highly segregated, a highly hypocritical city, and we were in another world when we walked into that studio”. It was evident, that Stax, the music, genres, and artists that it created, not only impacted the artists involved, but for generations of individuals, of all races, to enjoy, love, and learn creativity and joy from an audience different from them. The culture that Stax curated, continues to live on today, and that was visible while even walking through Beale St, and hearing the bands and singers, singing blues and soul music, and watching everyone just enjoy. Soul Train, which developed from the Stax and soul era, was a rare time where the representation of my people was other than being seen as subhuman, or stereotyped. Soul Train, broadcasted and watched by a large white audience, showed the nation something that they rarely saw, or chose to see in black people. Soul Train showed the character, dignity, joy, and integrity of black Americans, and possibly, possibly, gave them a glimpse of who we truly are. The artists of Stax, and the genre of soul, gospel and blues, created a refuge for the spirit, allowing the woes and difficulties of life, segregation, oppression, hatred, to be forgotten, and what a beautiful thing that must have been for my people.

Day 7: Music: The Language of the Heart

June 19th, 2021

Music has been a thread running through history and through the stories I’ve heard this week. Spirituals like “Wade in the Water” and “Free at Last” sung by enslaved people, serving as an oasis of hope and peace in the midst of pain and trials; Spirituals like “I Want Jesus to Walk With Me” that was a favorite song of Carolyn McKinstry, who was a survivor of the 16th St. Baptist Church bomb blast giving her comfort and support through the 20 years of depression following the event;  “Strange Fruit”, written in 1937 by Abel Meeropol, a Russian Jew from the Bronx, who wrote this haunting and powerful protest poem, later sung by Billie Holiday, as a protest of the lynching of Black Americans comparing the victims to fruit on trees; “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” as a freedom song for protesters , giving purpose, unity and resolve to not give up; “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”, the song requested by Dr. Martin Luther King of Ben Branch, a Memphis native, orchestra leader and tenor saxophonist since the Chicago’s Operation Breadbasket Orchestra, that had come to Memphis to perform at a rally supporting sanitation strikers were delayed by bad weather. King never got to hear the song played that night but his precious Lord did take his hand to glory that day.  So listen to the hearts of so many who have gone before you and listen to your heart.

Day 7: Remembering King

June 19th, 2021

Today was an incredibly moving day, as we began it at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. This was certainly the largest and most in-depth museum we had been to thus far. I appreciated the section dedicated to Black Power and the expansion of the celebration of Black culture throughout America. This exhibit was one we had not found elsewhere, and it is essential to have such spaces where children can learn to celebrate what is either their own culture, or the culture of their fellow Americans. Our later journey today took us from Memphis to Nashville, where we went to the National Museum of African American Music. This museum was dedicated to celebrating a critical component of black culture, and as someone who is not familiar with Gospel, Soul, R&B, or Rap, it was an eye-opening experience to see how African Americans have continually revolutionized American music. Music is an element of Black Power that the Lorraine Motel mentioned, but that the NMAAM brought to life.

But what was the most powerful exhibit today for me was at the Lorraine Motel. It was the re-created rooms where Martin Luther King Jr. stayed in the last hour of his life and the balcony with the exact spot where he was shot. I was only a few feet away from where he was killed. If it were not for the glass keeping me inside, I could have reached out and touched the pavement that once held a pool of his blood. The room had a plate of his dinner, an open carton of milk, and his open suitcase all modeled off of the crime scene pictures taken when he died.

There is something chilling to think that I was so close to the place of a brutal death of an incredible man. His Mountaintop speech, his final speech, always seemed to be divinely inspired to me. Although death was always looming over him, I have learned that Martin Luther King was never concerned about death. He often remarked he would not make it to 40, and he died at 39.

Martin Luther King’s acceptance of his own death was practically motivated, as the work to defeat white supremacy and inequality presented him with constant death threats, but it was a motivation of faith. King understood that as a Christian, death has already been defeated. But more importantly than that, God had prevailed over death, and God would continue to prevail in all things. God is a God of justice and will prevail even over white supremacy and bigotry. God is a God of liberation, taking the Israelites from Egypt, and will liberate people from economic and social inequality. King understood that his death would not be the end, as God would continue to prevail through the efforts of those who come after him.

I pray to continue the memory of King and all he did to bring social and economic equality. I pray for his wisdom from the Scripture, his oratory prowess, his dedication to non-violence, and his commitment to love. Equipped with those four things, I do believe that someone can change anything. For if someone acts with love and non-violence, surely, they will act on the side of God, who can do anything.

Matt Jenkins

Stained Glass

June 19th, 2021

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the churches were at the front lines of civil rights. This includes churches such as Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Ebenezer Baptist Church, First Baptist Church, and Bethel Baptist Church Interpretive Center. The most well-renowned hero of the civil rights movement himself Martin Luther King Jr. was well-known to be a pastor. Don’t forget Rev. Shuttlesworth and Ralph Abernathy. Churches were the center of community, and during these times they became fortresses for the outcast. Using their local influence, the best way to communicate and organize for the movement would be through the church, because of how in tune they were with people regardless of background.

However, there were other churches that twisted the biblical message in the opposite way. Using their influence in the white supremacist community, they motivated their congregation’s actions by twisting the Word in other directions. They would promote ideas of God ordaining the separation of His creation, saying, “Ethnic prejudice is as universal and deep as the foundations of the earth,” or,”God Almighty drew the line and it cannot be obliterated.”

So where do churches stand today? I am dismayed to say that (with bias from my representative heuristic) churches have been hurtful to many changes for the better, even the leftover steps of racial integration that could not be completed last century. The balance has not been found of cultural integration and theological maintenance. Swinging too far to one side, we have forgotten the second greatest commandment of “Love your neighbor as yoursel.” McKinstry spoke to us about the necessity of knowing our Bible and how it applies to us and the time we live in, not just its first impression upon reading. As C.S. Lewis wrote, God and God alone ultimately reconciles our sin. Therefore, our judgement should not be to attack well-founded (though different) interpretations. Instead, it should first be to reconcile with each other, “removing whatever seperates us” (McKinstry). Maybe churches can restore practices of unity through diversity and be return to the front lines of reform.

Jon Sison