Yesterday’s Sunday Platform address was a little different than normal, we heard the story of one who was a participant in American history as he told us about his experiences of more than 50 years ago in the Freedom Rides. In 1961, Alan Kaufman, now a retired representative of the Communications Workers of America, traveled to Mississippi along with several hundred other students – white and black – who took buses and trains into the Jim Crow south to test recent Supreme Court rulings that invalidated segregation in public, interstate facilities such as bus and train waiting rooms.
They were arrested and sent to jail, in Alan’s case 23 days in Mississippi’s Parchman State Penitentiary, a maximum security facility. It’s important to understand that these brave young people were not breaking any laws, what they were doing was entirely legal – and that was the point, to fill the jails of the south with peaceful protestors! The authorities invented the crime of “breach of peace” for having dared to sit in a public area designated “colored only”, blacks and whites, together.
Alan explained that at the time, he’d been a fairly non-political undergraduate university student when his girlfriend’s father told him of this effort that was being put together to challenge Jim Crow. Alan came from a Jewish family and his father was a doctor and the public health officer of Riverside, California. His father was kicked out of town because of his work to get better conditions for migrant laborers, and the family was met with a wave of antisemitism. A newspaper editorial called him the “rabid rabbi’ and the authorities told him he’d be better off if he just left town.
Born in 1940, was acutely aware of what the Nazis had done to the Jews of Europe and given how he had been raised, could not sit by and do nothing in the midst of the injustice of discrimination. “I had experienced discrimination. I couldn’t imagine what things were like in the South. It was something I had to do…”
Fortunately, Alan encountered no physical violence against him while in prison – though others had a more difficult time. All eventually bailed out by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) who went on to represent them in court.
Alan’s story, along with those of many others, was chronicled in the beautiful book, “Breach of Peace”, by Eric Etheridge. You can read more about the book and buy a copy for yourself here