It is easy to forget that the past isn't really ever the past.
The United States has or soon will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the monumental legislative gains and victories of the Civil Rights Movement. It is poignant that five decades after the Great March on Washington, Freedom Summer, and the high point of the Black Freedom Struggle, that an African-American is President of the United States. The efforts and spent lives of the black, brown, and white warriors for the full civil rights of African-Americans (and by extension all Americans across the color line) radically transformed the United States. Much work remains to be done; their efforts are betrayed if the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement is viewed as something of the past and not of the living present.
In this new episode on the podcast for We Are Respectable Negroes I had the most fortunate and blessed opportunity to speak with Dr. Paul Breines, a Freedom Rider and activist in the Civil Rights Movement.
He reminds us that the Civil Rights Movement was and is much more than documentaries such as the magisterial Eyes on the Prize or scenes in movies such as The Butler.
Paul was so very generous and honest in our great conversation where he provides a first person account of the Freedom Rides, his coming of age as a political activist, experiences with the real, day-to-day folks who had to live under the white supremacist regime that was Jim and Jane Crow, and how he negotiated those experiences morally, ethically, and philosophically. Dr. Breines also connects his work as a political activist to his intellectual work and career as a professor of history at Boston College.
Dr. Breines asks a foundational question during the podcast: what sort of white person do I want to be? The struggle for justice along the colorline would be much improved if more white brothers and sisters were as reflective.
Paul does some great teaching and sharing during our conversation on the podcast. I know that you will learn a great deal from his wisdom and experiences. I most certainly did.
02:18 Given all of the important historical events you were involved in with the Civil Rights Movement, how do you remain humble?
04:25 The Civil Rights Movement was an insurgency. Meeting black men with guns who protected the Freedom Riders, reflecting on the black women and other warriors who supported the movement
07:00 Learning how to be a moral and ethical person from his mother
11:44 How did you decide to become involved with the Freedom Rides?
17:05 Massaging the memory, history, and public image of the Civil Rights Movement
22:20 What sort of white person do I want to be?
26:56 Why did you choose to get involved with the movement and other white folks did not?
31:07 What did you feel like to be an enemy of the state? Did you think of your work with the Civil Rights Movement in those terms?
33:20 How did you manage your emotions--fear, anger, worry, etc.--in those moments? Some thoughts on being "brave" or "courageous"
37:39 Returning to Madison, Wisconsin after the Freedom Rides
39:30 Memory and reflecting on the Freedom Rides during the 1960s and in later years
43:00 What is it like talking to younger people about the Freedom Rides? What are some of the common questions that students and other young people have for you? How do you feel when you reflect upon the Civil Rights Movement and the Freedom Rides?
46:00 The absurdity of "the race card", white victimology, and racial resentment
54:00 Personal responsibility and signing their last wills and testaments for the Freedom Rides
56:31 How and why did you become a professor? Was your activist work related to your intellectual life?
64:30 What was it like to be a witness to the Right-wing Culture Wars at Boston College during the 1980s and early 1990s? Some thoughts on life philosophy and life reflections
73:20 Have "we" won or lost with the election of Barack Obama?
81:00 Are young people more or less politically involved and aware than they were during the 1960s?
88:30 How can folks contact you? Concluding thoughts and observations about the Freedom Rides, the law, civil rights, and trying to effect social change