This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Raymond Arsenault, the John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History at the University of South Florida, and author of several acclaimed and prize-winning books on civil rights, including Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice. He shares how he became interested in researching, writing, and teaching about the Civil Rights Movement. As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, he describes key figures in the movement, such as Irene Morgan, James Farmer, Diane Nash, and John Lewis, as well as the fear, hostility, and mob violence the riders (and the press covering them) confronted. They review organizations like the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); and how their opponents responded with terrifying violence across the South. He offers thoughts on how teachers and students should think about the tensions among the Kennedy administration, MLK and SCLC, and the often younger, student led-groups like CORE and SNCC. He concludes with a reading from his book about the Freedom Riders.
Stories of the Week: Civil Rights activist and education reform activist Dr. Howard Fuller’s support for school choice stems from his determination to provide Black students a quality education by any means necessary. Research from the Center for Research and Reform in Education shows that students in grades K-12 have been most seriously impacted by the effects of COVID-19-related learning loss.
The next episode will air on Wednesday, October 13th with guest, Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a non-partisan research and policy analysis organization developing transformative, evidence-based solutions for K–12 public education.
Raymond Arsenault is the John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg. One of the nation’s leading civil rights historians, he is the author of several acclaimed and prize-winning books, including Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice from Oxford University Press (2006), which served as the basis for the PBS American Experience documentary, Freedom Riders (2010). In 2011, he appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in an episode dedicated to the Freedom Riders. Prof. Arsenault also authored The Sound of Freedom: Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Concert That Awakened America (2009) and the New York Times Notable Book, Arthur Ashe: A Life (2018).
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Please excuse typos.
[00:00:00] Gerard: Hello listeners. Welcome back to another wonderful session of the learning curve. This is where we come together to talk about education, life, and society. And of course, none of this could be done with any brilliance, any fluidity or any interest if I didn’t have Kara. So how are you?
[00:00:19] Raymond: I’m
[00:00:19] Cara: well, how are you today?
[00:00:21] Gerard: friend, I’m doing well at the having spent a great two and a half days with a lot of people we know in Milwaukee, we were all there to celebrate the 30th
[00:00:29] Cara: anniversary. No, I’m so jealous. You know, I was supposed to be there and couldn’t be, but, I had a lot of FOMO. I’ll tell you, tell us how was it?
[00:00:38] was it like? Who did you see? What did you do?
[00:00:42] Gerard: Well, many of our listeners may not know, but 17 years ago, last month I actually moved from Charlottesville to Milwaukee to participate in a two year fellowship, , with Dr. Fuller at the Institute for the transformation of learning at Marquette university.
[00:00:57] And he invited me. [00:01:00] In part on a book chapter that he read that I wrote about choice and two is because he said the future of American urban education is housed in Milwaukee. And he said, if you want to know what the next 50 years is going to look like, come and spend two years with us. So I did and happened to be there when.
[00:01:17] Milwaukee had reached this cap in terms of 15,000 students being in the Milwaukee parental choice program, also known as the voucher program and played a role in helping push the lift, the cap campaign, which opened the doors to more students and families and schools. So we were there, had a chance to see him.
[00:01:35] In fact, they had a birthday cake to celebrate his 80th birthday. Wow. Glad to be there. No, I would’ve looked at good when I’m 60, let know an 80 and I’ve got know another 30 years to go for that. But, it was good to see him and Tommy Thompson, governor at the time in Wisconsin later, secretary of health and human services, Susan Mitchell, who was the leader of school choice, [00:02:00] Wisconsin, but we also had Jeannie Allen and Rob Enloe and Patrick Wolf.
[00:02:04] And. Jay green and just, you know, a Catherine Haley and others. So it was about 200 plus people there, but it was just really good. To celebrate 30 years. And to remember that 30 years ago, really 32 in terms of planning, it was an African-American lawmaker named Polly Williams, who was a Democrat, who was a progressive, who at one point supported Jesse Jackson’s campaign for office.
[00:02:30] Who cross the aisle to work with Tommy Thompson and out-state Republican and say, we’ve got to do something for Milwaukee and people laugh. It wouldn’t work. And it’s going to destroy public schools and all this stuff we hear even about charter schools. But 30 years later, we have students who’ve entered the middle-class, ranks because of this program.
[00:02:47] And, it was just good to be reminded that there were people who made personal professional and financial sacrifices to meet. What we now have today, which are 25 voucher programs, [00:03:00] 22 tax credit programs, six E essays to, independent type, , tax credit programs in place, including places like Florida.
[00:03:08] That wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for my walking. So it’s good to go back to the well. And
[00:03:14] Cara: also remembering a time Gerard, when people actually did cross the aisle, do you remember that
[00:03:21] Gerard: lifetime people would cross the aisle because
[00:03:24] Cara: they were actually like friendly to one another. They didn’t kill one another on social media among other, I mean, that, to me, there are two things about remembering.
[00:03:33] I mean, I came to this work later in my life than you did. Right. But, two things. One is that, you know, But, I mean, even no child left behind. Right. Remember by partisanship, it was a thing, it was a thing that used to happen in this country. And it certainly happened, with the birth of school choice , in Milwaukee and Cleveland and other places.
[00:03:52] But also, what I love about the story that you’re telling. And, I think I’m sure the AFC gathering highlighted this is, [00:04:00] there are so many misconceptions, and there are various reasons for that. Y school choice began and who supported it and went in to understand that this was really coming from, folks like Dr.
[00:04:13] Fuller, like Polly Williams, black people who were supporting change for black families who were looking for greater opportunities. I think that that’s a really important and powerful message. so many Americans would be surprised to learn if they took the time to actually learn and to listen.
[00:04:31] So, glad you got to go. sad that I missed. And I know that you spent time with, some close friends of mine too, , with the great Tim Abraham and Tommy Schultz. Was there folks that we’ve had on this podcast and others? So really, really good times, Gerard, maybe not. Maybe next year.
[00:04:47] Gerard: It’s, you know, so funny, you mentioned about the confusion and controversy about choice because my, article of the week is actually from a, , professor named John Hale, who just wrote a book where he features Dr. Fuller in it. [00:05:00] And, it’s from the NA uh, September 27th day. Conversation. And the title is how civil rights activist, how it fuller became a devout champion of school choice.
[00:05:11] And we think that if you support school choice, you either conservative, or if you happened to be a progressive or a Democrat, then you were sellout or somehow you were duped by funders and Dr. Well, none of those, you know, he was involved in this work during the civil rights movement and all the things that you mentioned, but, I’m glad you talk about bipartisanship because.
[00:05:31] We wouldn’t have a charter school movement today, if it weren’t for, center. Yeah. At that time, uh, Ember young in Minnesota making Minnesota the first state with a charter and it wouldn’t be a Polly Williams also in the Midwest doing work. and we forget the role that women played, including people like Jeannette Mitchel, who worked at the Bader foundation, who was one of the early funders of this.
[00:05:55] So it’s just a good time.
[00:05:57] Cara: Yeah. imagine it’s a great time to remember and [00:06:00] ensure to that there was a lot of hope there. So, um, anything more you want to tell us about your story the week Gerard? Or do you want to get mine is unrelated. Mine takes sort of a hard turn back to the morning.
[00:06:11] Gerard: Nope. Just to say, because you know, we are supported by philanthropy. It was good to see Jim. who made, he was working at the Walton family foundation at the time now as another foundation, but it was an early investor in this work. people like John Kirtley in Florida, but also to remember John Walton and the role that he played early in the game in getting his peer group people who you and I don’t have access to because we’re not billionaires or millions.
[00:06:39] Well, maybe you are and still know about it, but he was able to utilize, he was able to utilize his network of wealthy people who thought that the wealth of the nation would be served well by helping and investing in people who we often forget about. So just want to give a shout out to , the role that philanthropists have played in this.
[00:06:59] Cara: [00:07:00] absolutely. Well, which actually does provide a bit of a symbol
[00:07:03] Gerard: of the current family foundation
[00:07:05] Cara: and current family foundation doing great work and philanthropists like Kern and Walton, I think for, well, first of all, Walden, one of the things I often hear from folks. just make assumptions about the ed space and make assumptions about education funding, and perhaps spend a little bit too much time reading, Diane Ravitch’s books.
[00:07:20] Although I do hope she’ll come on the show at some point, is that, you know, that Walton family foundation is somehow just this they’re only interested in, radical right causes and stuff like that. And I want to, I was actually thinking to myself today, driving is. live in Boston, so I guess I have to listen to a lot of NPR.
[00:07:36] Listening to NPR and noting that they too, so many people think they’re left of center, but funded by the Walton family foundation, which also funds private school choice with so many people think is right of center. and neither really have to be neither are. but I long for that time of bipartisanship to ride, I got to tell you I’m getting tired.
[00:07:54] I want to take you though to my story of the week, which has relationship to [00:08:00] this, talk of funding, because it talks about COVID learning loss. of course we’re still talking about COVID learning loss, but, something that only the federal government has put tons of money into, and we’re still trying to figure out how states and districts are spending it.
[00:08:10] Just, a flag there, but also, um, that a lot of philanthropists are thinking about, and I chose this story today, Gerard, because. my four-year-old was home from school. because in this time, as I was talking to Jamie and Mikayla, our producers about before we got on, a runny nose warrants, staying home from school.
[00:08:28] Right. And in this case, mainly because my. It was so uncomfortable in his mask. He told me, mama, please don’t make me. Don’t make me wear a mask for eight hours with all this stuff coming out of my nose. So here I am at home trying to work with kiddo and reminded of those for me, it was only a short window of time, but remind insurance, mainly of what an incompetent teacher I am, because I spent a little while with kiddo doing letters and numbers, but most of his day was spent, with that great teacher called, Hey Google.
[00:08:58] While he watched [00:09:00] probably, you know, cartoons that may or may not have been appropriate because that’s, that’s about the extent of my parenting today. but the story. raises this story of the week brings to light research. That shows that it’s actually these little kiddos, if little kids like my guy, my four year old, who might’ve suffered the most learning loss so far during COVID.
[00:09:19] So, um, this story is coming to us from Hechinger report, but, it’s comes out from researchers at the two PhD students. In fact, at the Johns Hopkins university school of education. Of course, gosh, we had so much. Information, especially about COVID out of Hopkins, but what they’ve done is they’ve compiled data, right?
[00:09:39] So we’ve read, study by McKinsey or study by, , name, some of the good bellwether for. And, what they’ve done is they’ve gone through studies from a bunch of different countries to look at what learning loss looks like. And I think we’ve been focused on for a long time at like looking at different demographic groups in terms of whether it’s income or it, to some extent race, [00:10:00] right.
[00:10:00] Who has suffered the most. And what this is actually saying is it’s that K to two group that has suffered the most and they’ve suffered the most, , in terms of mathematics. Skills like, you know, early mathematic skills, not just those early language skills. It got me thinking, I don’t know how you are as a parent, but I’m far more comfortable with the language stuff with my kiddo.
[00:10:21] And I like to think that , we have pretty good conversations, but boy, when it comes to math, my patients’ wanes maybe because my early mathematics education was not so great either, but for all of these reasons, we have cause to focus on these groups of kids because boys. There is an abundance of research, as you know, that shows that early learning matters and it matters quite a bit.
[00:10:42] So this is a really interesting study I’ll point, our listeners to touch and to report. And the title of this article is it’s an opinion piece, but based in research, younger students were amongst. Most hurt during the pandemic. The one last [00:11:00] thing I’ll point out Gerard is that these researchers still point to tutoring as the best intervention.
[00:11:06] we had a great conversation last week with Mike Goldstein, who has thought a lot about tutoring and fund the match tutor Corps among other things. And we raised the alarm with him saying that, you know, there’s a difference between high-quality tutoring and tutoring for the sake of tutoring. So I’m hoping that as states and districts continue to think about how their.
[00:11:25] Deploy federal funds and his parents think about what they should be advocating for. We keep in mind these little ones we keep in mind, pre-literacy and early mathematic skills and think about what are the high quality ways in which we can help kids get up to speed. And in fact, get ahead. All right, Gerard well after that, that great reminiscence and the story of the week, we are looking forward to having with us.
[00:11:49] We’ve got another great professor and historian with us. Raymond Arsenault, the university of south Florida. And he’s going to talk to us about any number of things, shed some light [00:12:00] on topics that we talk about often on the learning curve, because he’s written 70. Prize-winning books, on the civil rights movement, including what about freedom writers?
[00:12:08] So we will be talking with him right after this musical internet.[00:13:00]
[00:13:59] [00:14:00] Welcome back listeners. And we are with Raymond Arsenault. He is John hope, Franklin professor of Southern history at the university of south Florida, St. Petersburg. He’s one of the nation’s leading civil rights historians and the author of several acclaimed and prize winning books, including freedom.
[00:14:17] 1961. And the struggle for racial justice from Oxford university press, which served as the basis for the PDs American experience documentary called freedom writers in 2011, he appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show and an episode dedicated to the freedom writers. Professor Ashton also authored the sound of freedom, Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial and the concert that awakened America and the New York times notable.
[00:14:42] Arthur Ash, a life professor snow. Welcome to the learning curve.
[00:14:47] Raymond: Thank you.
[00:14:49] Cara: Well, we were just talking about the fact that you were an Oprah, which is really cool and hard to imagine that you were in one of her last shows over 10 years ago. It makes me feel, [00:15:00] a little old seems like yesterday. but of course, we’re here to get.
[00:15:04] About the work that brought you to that show. So, , it’s really opportune that you’re, on with us now, because this year is actually the 60th anniversary as the 1961 freedom rides. And you are really the authority on this subject. Can you tell us a little bit about how you came be an authority on the subject?
[00:15:22] what led you to study the civil rights movement and particularly this aspect of that. And also because I don’t know, I, for one, I’m always keen to learn more about women were really leaders in the civil rights movement. Could you tell us a little bit more about Irene Morgan and what she did in 1944?
[00:15:42] Raymond: Well, I think I got into the subject a bit, indirectly. Actually was working on another book, on the Montgomery bus boy time, Rosa parks and Dr. King and all of that and with a coauthor. And we worked on it for a long time and, his [00:16:00] name was mills and he taught at university of Michigan.
[00:16:01] but I think we discovered that when you’re writing about something as important as civil rights, often co-authoring doesn’t work very well. You want to speak with your own voice. and we had sort of different interests, not really disagreements, but in any event, uh, we both went our separate ways and actually wrote two different books than the one we were going to write.
[00:16:23] And, in researching and writing about the Montgomery bus boycott of 19 55, 19 56, started dealing with the sort of the epilogue, which is the freedom rise of 1961. And I realized that, um, no one had ever written a book about it and that it was absolutely fascinating, actually more fascinating to me than the bus boycott.
[00:16:45] about that time. of my mentors from graduate school and from undergraduate, actually, uh, David Hackett, Fischer at Brandeis and James MacPherson at Princeton, both Pulitzer prize winners. They were editing a book series together for Oxford university press [00:17:00] called pivotal moments in American history.
[00:17:01] And what they really were looking for were books that, could sort of see the return of the narrative with a vengeance kind of storytelling. Uh, Recovering that art trying to get back the audience from the journalists. So after so many years trying to write sophisticated social science history. And so David Fisher came to me and said, I want you to be one of the first authors.
[00:17:24] We want somebody, people who are good historians, but also who can write. And so I was flattered and he asked me, and he said, have you got a pivotal moment for me? cause the series was pivotal moments in American history. I wasn’t sure that I did actually at that moment. But I, said, I’d like to do a book on the freedom rides and, he said, well, great.
[00:17:41] And, uh, once I got into it, uh, there was no doubt that the freedom rides was a pivotal moment in American history, not only in the civil rights movement, but in, in 20th century America. and. realized early on that I had gotten my self involved in a project that would almost certainly be the most important thing that I would ever [00:18:00] work on.
[00:18:00] And I felt a deep sense of responsibility to carry it through. I think. Like most historians, I knew that there were 13 original freedom writers, John Lewis and 12 others. And I didn’t know, there were 436 freedom riders and there were more than 60 freedom rides. I think of, I, I’m not sure. I would’ve had the courage to go on if I had known, cause it, took me, over eight years to write the book.
[00:18:23] but it was a real labor of love. And I, what I, one of the things I had to do was attract down the freedom riders. They had sort of dispersed, and they really weren’t as cohesive a group as say the student nonviolent coordinating committee veterans or groups like that, uh, freedom summer in 1964.
[00:18:41] but I found them and actually started working with John Lewis to, organize reunion. It was just the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me, to be honest, just was kind of so wrapped up in it. And, they were, I think a little dubious about me at first, but then they adopted me. It was kind of a [00:19:00] honorary freedom rider and I spent so much time with them and it’s just one of the glories of my life that I got to know.
[00:19:06] So many of these really extraordinary people. maybe ordinary in some senses, but they did extraordinary things and that the courage, physical and moral courage that they displayed back in 1961 was just unbelievable. And they signed on for life. There’s still freedom riders there. They’re still troublemakers making good troubles.
[00:19:25] As John Lewis often says, still getting arrested, for various good causes and, So I think when my book came out, it did establish the freedom ride is clearly one of the major turning points in the civil rights movement and in American history. And that’s not the way it was seen before.
[00:19:42] It was really seen as part of the sort of white noise that happened in the early 1960s. It’s kind of blurred with everything else because people knew what was coming. You know, the March on Washington and freedom summer. Selma to Montgomery, March, all those things. And what happened in 1961, it seems like just part of the backstory, but it was much more than that.
[00:19:59] [00:20:00] it, began the nonviolent direct action phase, which transformed not only the movement, but American politics.
[00:20:07] Cara: know, professor, I would love for you to still tell us about Irene Morgan, but you bring up something that I’d like to ask you to address. And that is, you talk about , how it really helped to spark the movement and in so much that came with it.
[00:20:19] And one of the noticings here is that even though. for example, Dr. Martin Luther King’s message and the student nonviolent coordinating committee, his message was about advancing civil rights through nonviolence. , what happened was actually horrifying violence across the self?
[00:20:36] So could you talk a little bit about how we, how do we square those two things, especially for students today who are.
[00:20:46] Raymond: That’s it, that’s a very important and good. Question. It’s often asked with respect to Gandhi in India. Non-violence as a philosophy, as a way of life, more than just a tactic.
[00:20:59] [00:21:00] almost always, if it’s done correctly. Inspire a reaction. That’s part of what it’s supposed to do. you want to win over your enemy so that they’re no longer enemies and you have to shame them into it. you have to do what, Gandhi called unmerited suffering, which is what the freedom riders did.
[00:21:17] they had this spirit of love and forgiveness. but to make it work, they had to provoke the white supremacist. they didn’t want anybody to get hurt or killed, but they knew full well when I got on those buses and essentially dare the KU Klux Klan to go after them.
[00:21:33] But the Klan probably would, and of course it did and tried to burn them to death on a bus and Annison, and, beat them savagely in the streets of, , Birmingham. But of course key is to remain nonviolent yourself to. Accentuate the contrast as they did between themselves and what they would have said, the white thugs and went after them.
[00:21:54] So they always dressed like they were going to church, the women in skirts and pantyhose and the [00:22:00] man and coats and ties and, even if they didn’t normally dress that way, , they wanted to dress for the cameras and dress for public opinion. They wanted to show that there was not a moral equivalency between them.
[00:22:11] They were disruptors of the civic order. and there was a lot of opposition to them initially because they were in sort of lumped with the clan while the clans disrupting the civic order. And so of the freedom miners versus for entirely different reasons. And so they had to, establish that lack of moral, equivalency, and they knew what they were getting into and not maybe not entirely, but.
[00:22:31] Many of those kids, 19, 20 years old, they wrote out their last wills and testaments where they got on the bus because they had a sense they might not be coming back and they were, willing to die. I mean, they put their lives on the line and that’s what of course scared their parents and their teachers and their ministers begged them not to do it.
[00:22:49] I thought they were making a terrible mistake, but they had a certain wisdom that somebody had to push the edge of the envelope. Someone had to take those risks. And of course, part of what they were doing was [00:23:00] to force the Kennedy administration to decide whether it was going to support constitutional rights or whether it was going to play politics and stay out of it.
[00:23:08] And so they forced John Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy, the attorney general to change. I mean, they sort of saved them from themselves. I mean, they were cold warriors, more interested in the Berlin wall than they were, what happened in Birmingham and Selma. so that was freedom writers taught them about really, I think really the meaning true meaning of democracy.
[00:23:27] And in, so doing, they, uh, I think they expanded the realm of the possible really in American politics that, sometimes you have to take the battle out of the courtroom and into the streets and you got to be willing to sacrifice yourself and perhaps even, even to die. And I think they won over the American.
[00:23:44] Eventually. So now they’re considered to be great heroes and, rightfully so because they knew something. A lot of other people didn’t know that the traditional methods of rights movement were never going to get us to the promised land. And we never got completely to the [00:24:00] promise land of. Hoping for that, what they called the beloved community.
[00:24:03] That’s a phrase that John Lewis and Dr. King use so often, because, non-violence did not take over American society clearly. but they were able to exercise enough political leverage to change the whole course and the timing of the civil rights movement and to become a template really for the sixties.
[00:24:21] I mean, if you ever wondered why the silent generation in the fifties was okay, What happened in the sixties, the freedom rides as part of that, I mean, they, they showed the way for the women’s movement and the environmental movement and the antiwar movement and the disabled and gays and lesbians, you name it.
[00:24:35] freedom rides was at the beginning of all of that.
[00:24:38] Gerard: You talked about the way people dressed to make a visible distinction between themselves and the clan or the white thug, as some of them would call the group. So that says a lot about the function of a free press and our democracy and what it played out in, how it played out on television.
[00:24:57] talk to us more about that [00:25:00] aspect of. Civil disobedience, because we often just look at them as well-dressed people not knowing it was actually a tactic. And what role, , the media TV coverage and the reporters
[00:25:10] Raymond: played in it. Yeah, that’s, a very good point. I mean, they were staging dramas really, for the, newspapers and for the television cameras and, they knew that they had to sort of see.
[00:25:23] The spotlight because civil rights, even though it appeared on the front pages of newspapers, it had never been the big issue. and of course it becomes that in the early sixties. In fact, that’s the main reason that the night we knew was went from 15 minutes to 30, because of the civil rights movement.
[00:25:41] But that was, a dramatic shift. And one of the difficulties we had. Doing documentary for American experience, freedom riders was, uh, there wasn’t as much, videotape and, eye witness accounts. As there are later, we did find more than we, thought we would find, and the, images in the film are, are [00:26:00] really dramatic, but, that the media was a crucial part of the strategy.
[00:26:04] prior to. To the early 1960s, the New York times didn’t even have a full-time person covering the civil rights movement in the south. and that really tells you something. And so the, freedom rides was, you know, on the front page almost every day, four months. And, it was designed to be that way.
[00:26:21] I mean, Jim farmer, the head of Corp, which planned the freedom rise, you know, he wanted to draw the white supremacists out to make. Show the world, how far they were willing to go to protect white supremacy. Uh, so in some senses, bull Connor, the brutal commissioner of public safety in Birmingham was. his best ally.
[00:26:41] He had to have bulk honor, to show, how deep the prejudice went and what they were willing to do all on TV and those incredible images that were in newspapers across the world. That just shock people about the burning bus and Anniston and. John Lewis and Jim Peck [00:27:00] nearly beaten to death in the streets of Birmingham.
[00:27:02] it’s one of the things that changed America.
[00:27:05] Gerard: Earlier you talked about Dr. King and you mentioned, Kennedy, whether it’s the president or the attorney general. And they were, you know, of course they were assassinated as well and their lives helped shape what we call the civil rights movement.
[00:27:19] Even still historians often consider the Kennedy administration’s civil rights record overrated. And some of the students who were driving leaders behind core Snick and many who joined the freedom ride themselves, they were deeply disappointed that Dr. King didn’t join them on the bus. So how should teachers and students alike think about the tensions between the Canadian administration, Dr.
[00:27:43] King Snick and a younger generation of student leaders in speaking.
[00:27:48] Raymond: Well, the devil is in the details. I think, the organizations were pushing up against each other and part of Jim farmer’s motivation to plan the freedom rise was it, he wanted to become one of the major leaders. He [00:28:00] wanted to sort of push into the top echelon.
[00:28:03] And, so there were egos involved or organizations involved, but. when you deal with, with students. I think that you have to be truth telling about it. Um, you don’t want to give a completely celebratory version of the civil rights movement you don’t want to turn these people into, you know, stick figures, cartoon characters that they’re flesh and blood human beings.
[00:28:24] Although I must say I’m three quarters of the way through writing a biography of John Lewis right now. And, uh, it’s hard to find a flaw, you know, , he’s almost too good to be true as a human being And so they it’s as a historian it’s, not easy to keep any form of detachment. In fact, I think most people who write about this consider themselves to be part of the civil rights movement.
[00:28:45] I mean, I certainly do. I consider my work to be an extension of the freedom rides that they were trying to educate America. And that’s what I was trying to do by recovering the freedom riders were lost in history. The Kennedys, uh, it’s a mixed bag. I mean, there’s [00:29:00] one book about. And civil rights called the bystander.
[00:29:04] he never really got emotionally engaged. I think until the last few months of his life, the famous speech he made on, on June 11th and I’d met her Evers was killed. 1963 shows. He had really moved and of course, Bobby Kennedy moved much farther later on. But, civil rights movement had to keep educating them.
[00:29:22] The freedom rides wasn’t enough. I mean, the next year in Albany, Georgia, the Kennedys were backsliding again, and they had to, uh, had to do it all over again. And I had to do it in Birmingham in 63 and Selma in 64 with even Lyndon Johnson who was such a big supporter of the civil rights bill, certainly had his, his limits and the, the movement.
[00:29:42] I had to keep the pressure on the administration has kept telling them we need a cooling off period. And, uh, Jim farmer once said, we’ve been cooling off for 300 years. We’re not dueling off. We don’t want freedom later. We want freedom now. And that’s what the essence of the freedom rides was all about.
[00:29:59] Gerard: [00:30:00] Irene Morgan, she’s someone who, you know, a great deal about. Would you like to share a passage from your work about her?
[00:30:08] Raymond: sure , I didn’t know how I would end this book. I mean, it’s 526 pages of text maybe longer than it needed to be, but I wanted to tell the whole story and I begin with Irene Morgan and then I come back to her at the very end.
[00:30:25] she was still alive when I was doing the books. She was the woman, of course, like Rosa parks would refuse to give up her seat on the bus and 1944 and represent herself in court and then went all the way into the Supreme court. And Thurgood Marshall argued the case and she won and it on paper, at least it struck down.
[00:30:44] Segregation laws for interstate travel, but of course the attorneys general and the politicians in the south just ignored it. And so you needed, you needed a voting rights act later, and you needed another decision in December of 1960 and you needed the freedom rise to finally [00:31:00] the segregate, the buses, but all, all of that took place in Gloucester county of Virginia in the south side.
[00:31:06] And, the Tidewater and. She was from Baltimore and she had lost a baby. She was visiting her mom recuperating with her mother and she didn’t want to give up her seat. She was feeling physically exhausted. And after all of that, after being treated so terribly and being beaten and, put in jail, after all of that, uh, after she had, uh, another whole life.
[00:31:29] was divorced and remarried and she got a master’s degree in New York and everything. She decided at the end of her life to come back to Virginia, to live in that same county, in Gloucester. And I was really stunned by it. And talked to her children and grandchildren about it, about the, her kind of, mindset.
[00:31:50] so I end, I really end the book with her coming back. she had just gotten the presidential citizens medal and I write this, [00:32:00] whether this apparent transformation will prove to be as fundamental or as permanent as the citations citation they had on her metal implies remains an open question.
[00:32:10] But even the most skeptical among us should take some comfort from Irene Kirkcaldy. her married name was Morgan. Kirkcaldy recent decision to live out her days in Gloucester, since , January, 2004, she and her daughter have shared a home just down the road from the bus stop, where she was once denied simple justice, surrounded by friends and family members who see her as a righteous symbol of redemption and promise.
[00:32:35] She lives peacefully, secure on the knowledge that her life. Like the lives of the freedom riders who came after her made a difference for her. At least the long awaited day of Jubilee has arrived since then, of course she has died, but was happy that I, could sort of complete the circle there and to bring her back at the end, because she was one of those American heroes who was truly lost for so long.
[00:32:59] And she [00:33:00] never wanted this. It’s only that near the end of her life, that she was rediscovered and honored and given metals and all of that, but it was never about the hoopla for her. It was about simple justice
[00:33:12] Cara: on what a beautiful passage. And so fitting to, end with talking about Irene Morgan. When one of the first things we talked about is sort of.
[00:33:20] what it is that, students need to know more about, about this period of time. And certainly she seems like somebody who we don’t learn enough about in our schools, professor RayBan, Arsenault, thank you so much for your time today. And for schooling us on this topic, it’s been an absolute pleasure.
[00:33:38] Raymond: Well, it’s been my pleasure too. I really, enjoyed it. And thank you for inviting me.
[00:33:43] Gerard: [00:34:00] , listeners. My [00:35:00] tweet of the week is from Kevin P Chavis. Someone I referenced earlier, who’s a president at stride incorporated. His tweet is from October 1st. It says Howard fuller is the most significant education leader of the last 50 years. And that is.
[00:35:19] Cara: I feel like I should have some comment, but I’m not said, I think it’s the only thing to say to that. and shout out to Dr. Fuller happy belated birthday to Dr. Fuller, who, , I think was one of our very first guests on the show. Maybe after you Gerard. I can’t remember. All right then. Gerard next week.
[00:35:37] sorry, lizard, but we might be back to talking about COVID, but hopefully a lot more than that. We’re going to be speaking with Robin lake. She is the director of the center on reinventing public education, which is a nonpartisan research and policy analysis organization. Developing transformative evidence-based solutions for K to 12 public education, but bottom line, here’s the [00:36:00] thing, Robin like just a really smart person producing a lot of really, really cool stuff worth our time worth everybody’s time.
[00:36:07] And her stuff is certainly worth a read. So looking forward to being with Robin next week, Gerard until then, are you traveling? Are you staying home for the while you have feet in Charlottesville?
[00:36:16] Gerard: Yep. I have feet in Shelbyville for the next.
[00:36:20] Cara: Awesome. Well, fantastic. Looking forward to being with you next week and until then, have a great week go take that nap you’ve been talking about.
[00:36:27] Gerard: Oh, you can rest assure
[00:36:30] Cara: literally. All right. Take care. Bye.