By Siena Chrisman with Roy Frias
On May 22, 1961, a group of six white Americans and seven black Americans boarded a bus in Washington, DC, bound for the South. The goal of the Freedom Rides – which took place 50 years ago this spring – was to test the laws being made to desegregate interstate travel. Laws of interstate commerce might seem boring, but these 13 Americans risked their lives to show that the desegregation laws weren’t being enforced. Even though segregation was illegal, African Americans still weren’t allowed to sit alongside whites on buses, in waiting rooms, or at lunch counters all across the South.
The first group of riders was brutally beaten in Alabama and Mississippi, arrested unlawfully, and some were refused treatment by hospitals. But another group picked up the ride in Nashville, and kept going. These riders inspired others – hundreds of others, blacks and whites, and mostly young, riding together until the Freedom Rides became a movement. The riders drew so much attention that eventually the laws were enforced and the “Whites Only” and “Colored Only” signs came down.
On August 7, 2011, a group of 13 young Americans of many races will board a bus in the South to ride against injustice once again. At a time when one in six Americans is going hungry and the newest generation of youth is the first with a shorter life expectancy than their parents – in large part because of food they eat – the Food and Freedom Ride will expose the inequalities of our food system and address food as a civil rights issue. The ride will travel from Alabama and Mississippi, key points in the civil rights movement, through America’s heartland of Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa, before ending in Detroit, a city that points to a new direction for agriculture. Along the way, the riders will meet with civil rights elders, youth organizers, many kinds of farmers, meat processing workers, and many others.
We are honored to be two of the Food and Freedom Riders next week, along with the Real Food Fellows and other representatives of Live Real. One of our first stops will be in Mississippi, with MEGA (Mississippians Engaged in Greener Agriculture) and Delta Fresh Foods Initiative, both longtime WhyHunger partners.
We are so fortunate that thanks to the efforts of the 1961 Freedom Riders and so many thousands of others, we won’t face beatings or jail time on our ride. We are riding to bring to light the slow violence of hunger and disease that too many people face every day in this country and around the world because they cannot access food that is good for them—because they can’t afford it, because they live in a neighborhood where there’s nowhere to buy real food, or for any number of other reasons. Laws, corporate policies, and budget priorities create our food system—to make healthy food easier to grow and buy, we must demand those structures change. We are riding with the hope that one day, the hunger, obesity, and other limitations to people’s lives that develop from our unjust food system will seem just as foreign to school classrooms as reading about “Whites Only” drinking fountains.
Follow us as we ride for food and freedom August 7 through 19, here on the blog, @WhyHunger on Twitter (and #foodandfreedom), and at WhyHunger.org. Help spread the word! Download the Food and Freedom Rides press release and share it with your local media contacts.
Siena Chrisman is the Manager of Strategic Partnerships and Alliances at WhyHunger; Roy Frias is interning with us for the summer, through a partnership with East New York Farms!