By: Justin Worthing
Xavier University’s Dr. Christine Anderson and former Freedom Rider Betty Daniels Rosemond recently led a community discussion based on the award-winning documentary Freedom Riders at Cincinnati’s Harriet Beecher Stowe House. The event, which occurred September 21, was designed to spark discussion and bring attention to the Freedom Riders during the Civil Rights Era.
“I want to sit here and tell you we were motivated,” Rosemond said. “I cannot tell you how but, what. I know it was God… Once we started, once we were ready, there was no turning back. Nobody could stop us, and if it meant that you died, you died, but we were going to go through with it.”
The event began with a brief introduction by Anderson followed by a short documentary entitled “Buses Are A’Comin: The Story of the Freedom Riders.” Created by then-8th grader Isaiah Reaves, the documentary served to familiarize those attending with the Freedom Rider movement. The video was the 2nd place winner in the Junior Documentary Category of the 2012 National History Day competition.
According to the documentary, the purpose of the Freedom Riders was to see if certain desegregation laws were being recognized throughout the country. Over 400 people, both black and white, rode public buses through the Deep South during 1961-1962; they wanted to see if the states would legally recognize them in buses and restaurants.
An excerpt from the Freedom Riders documentary was shown next. This excerpt explored the 1961 bombings in Anniston, Alabama — a tragic occurrence of which the Klu Klux Klan and other local residents were responsible. Yet the bus fire only helped fuel more riders to their cause, growing the movement and helping it gain more national recognition.
Rosemond’s stories, however, captivated the audience the most. She shared numerous anecdotes about her encounters with opposition and her preparation for the rides. She told the audience that she joined the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the group that organized the Freedom Rides, because she wanted her mother to be able to sit wherever she wanted to sit in restaurants.
“I decided I was going to join CORE; they were asking for membership, and they were going to have a meeting,” said Rosemond. “But you could not be in CORE if you were violent. You could not be in CORE if you didn’t go through [non-violence] training… The training involved somebody who would walk up to you and shove you down, or somebody would walk up to you and slap you in the face, but you had to take it.”
She also shared some parts about the training she said she does not share often.
“There was one young lady in CORE… she was training me. And this lady really didn’t like me because I had a crush on her boyfriend. Out of all people she was my trainer, and she was pretty rough.”
Her stories ranged from her experiences with violent resistance — which she said was not as hurtful as being spat on — to her short weekend in jail to the cryptic test her mother had to pass to vote to the generosity she experienced from strangers along her journey.
“In my heart and any rider you talk to… will say the same thing,” said Rosemond. “If we lived, we lived. If we died, we died, but we died for a cause in which we believed in, and I know in my heart that God had created us equal… that God was able to know that all of this had to take place in order to change this world.”
The discussion is the first of a four-part series Created Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggle. It is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities in partnership with Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Both documentaries, along with information of upcoming events at the Harriet Beecher Stowe House, are available online.