The Evolution of Revolution

“Freedom Riders” at UWM

By - Feb 4th, 2011 04:00 am
Sign-up for the Urban Milwaukee daily email

close-up from the UWM exhibit. Photos from display by Nicole Peaslee.

For some, February is just another month of  early sunsets and bone-chilling temperatures, but for others, it’s a time to consider our cultural heritage.

Since the introduction of Black History Month in 1976, black schoolchildren have been reminded their forefathers’ struggles under slavery, Jim Crow, and various other instruments of racial oppression. They write book reports about Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X at the behest of their teachers who hope to impress the tumultuous nature of their cultural past.

In spite of this, many of us take for granted the fact that, in the grand scheme of things, Black History is relatively new to the public at large. In the decades since the inception of Black History Month, more has come to light about the American Black Experience. In their latest effort to share some of that experience, PBS is promoting their documentary Freedom Riders nationwide.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of one of the crucial turning points in the Civil Rights movement, the film tells the story of  several courageous activists who braved all manners of danger in their quest to integrate our country, one bus ride at a time.

In 1961, the first group of 13 integrated Civil Rights activists boarded two greyhound buses in Washington, DC and changed the course of history. Part of the American Experience series, the film outlines the key players, tragedies, and strategies that made the Freedom Rides part of the unique struggle of the American Civil Rights Movement.

In conjunction with the film release, PBS has set up a traveling exhibit with information on different aspects of the campaign.The free exhibit is on display in the UWM Golda Meir Library’s Daniel M. Soref Learning Commons from January 24 to February 21, 2011, and fits in with campus-wide activities celebrating Black History Month.

Milwaukee is one of 20 stops planned for the exhibit. In celebration, The Friends of the UWM Golda Meir Library sponsored a public reception and discussion panel on February 1. The panel, “Riding the Freedom Road: Are We There Yet?” featured MPS Community Engagement Project Coordinator Tyrone Dumas; Patricia Parker, Outreach Specialist of the UWM Department of Social Work, and Judge Russell W. Stamper, Sr. of Milwaukee Country Circuit Court.

Calling upon their personal experience and expertise, panelists addressed the legacy the American Civil Rights Movement and what that means for today’s generation.

“The way the world has begun to unfold, it might sometimes seem like we are moving backwards,” said Judge Stamper. Stamper cited examples in support of slavery, segregation, and discrimination from a variety of sources, including the U.S. Constitution and the Dred Scott Decision, in which a black man was turned away from the U.S. Supreme Court on the grounds of not being a citizen, but property.

Tyrone Dumas, Patricia Parker, and Judge Russell W. Stamper, Sr.

Tyrone Dumas focused on the effect of disparity between African Americans and their white counterparts in economic terms. Referring to his own shunning within the job market, he expressed concern with the impact of economic disenfranchisement of black Americans nationwide.

“I studied architecture, not black architecture. I didn’t want to make huts or cabins, I wanted to make buildings, but there were no jobs for us.”

Addressing the spiritual aspects of black community life and  impact of race from the perspective of a child brought up in Jackson, Mississippi, Patricia Parker gave much credit to the black educators in her life. Along with the other panelists, Parker emphasized that the success of the Civil Rights Movement relied heavily on the sense of community—often rooted in churches and conveyed through elders.

According to the panelists, the fight for civil rights is far from over. Remembering national events like the murders of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers, and the assassination of black leaders Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and numerous others in public lynchings; the panel gave examples of recent travesties that recall those dark chapters in our history. One prime example cited by Judge Stamper was the controversial Frank Jude case of 2004.

“The Civil Rights movement served as a platform for other movements for other segments of the population that were not treated fairly: women, gays, differently-abled peoples,” said Parker. “Was the Civil Rights Movement an evolution, or a revolution? Because if it was an evolution, we have to embrace the message of that movement: if one is not equal, none of us are.”

The Freedom Riders exhibit will be on display in the UWM Golda Meir Library’s Daniel M. Soref Learning Commons from January 24th-Feb 21, 2011. The free exhibit features a self-guided cell phone audio tour, and is displayed alongside letters of support and threats for Milwaukee’s own civil rights heroes. In addition to the exhibit, a free screening of the film and a talk back with the film’s producer, Mark Samels, will be offered at the UWM Union Theatre on Monday, Feb. 14 at 6:30 p.m.

For more information on the Freedom Riders film, exhibit, or other Black History Month events at UWM, please contact the UWM Union.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *