Former activists Thomas M. Armstrong, author of “Autobiography of a Freedom Rider and Foot Soldier,” and Louis Freeman, Southwest Airline’s first black pilot, discuss their past experiences with racism and fight for equality.
Life During the Civil Rights Movement
Armstrong fought for civil rights in the segregated deep south at a time when Jim Crow laws were in effect. He describes being a Foot Soldier as being on “the front lines,” participating in any and all activities that pushed for equal rights and opportunities for black Americans, including sit-ins, walk-ins, rallies, and protests. He said there were number of events that unfolded that kept him motivated, the first of which was the murder of Emit Till.
“People were getting killed in my area of the country, simply because they attempted to vote. They wanted to vote but couldn’t,” he said. “There were other martyrs of that particular time that they gave me courage for the simple reason that I did not want their deaths to be in vain. I had to take up the cause that they attempted to deliver to us and move it forward.”
Meanwhile, Freeman and his brother were one of ten black students to first be integrated into Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas Texas when most schools were segregated by race.
“A lot of different cultures, you keep that culture at home,” said Freeman as he began to explain the importance of staying true to himself even while attending a predominantly white high school. “Then when you walk out the front door, you make a change so that you can assimilate to the other, general culture.” Sometimes this is referred to as “code switching. “But you have to be the one to make up your mind how much of yourself you want to give. You can can give up everything and try to pretend that you’re someone that you’re not and that’s no good.”
“Find yourself a song. Find yourself a poem that’s going to take you through the troubled times,” Armstrong advised the younger generation of today. The former activists talked about how they both can relate to what many are feeling today when it comes to racial tension, civil rights, and injustices.
“It brought to mind the way I felt back in ’91 when Rodney King had gotten beaten,” Freeman said of the George Floyd murder. “The feeling deep in your stomach that you got then, it just makes you want to just throw something. It really does because this is still going on.”
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Finding Common Ground is focused on important current events and how they impact our diverse population. We are many voices of one community, often with strong opinions on every side of an issue. Here, through courageous conversation in the interest of discovering collaborative solutions, we hope to find out common ground.
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