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(L-r) DSU students Jacquaniese Washington, Jonpaul Brown and Kristyn Green were selected to take part in the U.S. Department of Education's commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As part of the event, the students spent time with living members of the Freedom Riders movement of the early 1960s.

  Three DSU Students Take Trip with Living Freedom Riders

Three DSU students recently received firsthand accounts of what it was like to be a part of the dangerous Freedom Riders’ journeys through the country’s Deep South during the early 1960s.

Kristyn Green stands outside photos of the president and vice president at the U.S. Department of Education where the event began.

The Del State students – Jonpaul Brown, a junior from Schenectady, N.Y.; Kristyn Green, a senior  from Philadelphia; and Jacquaniese Washington, a sophomore from Birmingham, Ala. – all mass communications majors, were selected to take part in the U.S. Department of Education’s July 1 commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 signing.

Because Ms. Washington grew up in Birmingham, the celebration of the Civil Rights Act had poignant significance for her.

“I have family members who were hosed in the same street that I went to school at – or who could only eat at certain restaurants, whereas I can eat at all restaurants with my white or Asian friends,” Ms. Washington said. “It is important for me to know my history and to be able to meet people who have sacrificed so much.”

As part of the commemoration, living members of the Freedom Riders were also celebrated for their protest of the southern states’ illegal discrimination in interstate bus travel. The Freedom Riders protest was one of several forms of civil protests that led up to the 1964 passage of the Civil Rights Act.

As part of the experience, the DSU students joined the Freedom Riders for a bus trip from Washington D.C. to the old House Chambers in Richmond, Va. The living veterans of those protests shared stories of their experiences on those dangerous rides through Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana in the early 1960s.

“These individuals were beaten and they bled for what they believed in,” said Ms. Green. “There is nothing more humbling than sitting shoulder to shoulder with someone who has been spit on, smacked, hosed, bitten and beaten so that we can be treated fairly and so that our dreams can be obtained.”

Jonpaul Brown poses proudly with two unidentified Freedom Riders.

Jacquaniese Washington said it was important to meet people who had sacrificed so much.

Mr. Brown and Ms. Washington were chosen as student documentarians for the event as a result of their journalism and videography skills. They were given media passes, and they videotaped interviews of the Freedom Riders and others that they will put together as a documentary.  The student filmmakers have been asked to share their finished product – which they have already entitled “A Ride of a Lifetime” – with the U.S. Department of Education.

Ms. Green is a student activist whose community involvement and strong application won her inclusion in the event. She will give a reflection presentation on her experiences on the trip in the fall at DSU.

The trio also took part in the event’s opening ceremony at the U.S. Department of Education, which included the singing of “We Shall Overcome” as well as a keynote address from Hank Thomas, an original freedom rider. Additionally, student NAACP members recited poems, sang and presented original artwork, one special one being “Black Rushmore.” The day’s events were culminated with the Freedom Riders giving autographs upon the group’s return to the U.S. Department of Education.

“Without civil rights I wouldn’t be able to have my own business, to go to college and gain knowledge to be the type of man I want to be down the road,” Mr. Brown said.