Freedom rider takes students back in time

By Ari Feuer, Deputy Editor-in-Chief

With stories of violent discrimination and perilous resistance, “Freedom Rider” Earnest Rip Patton Jr. narrated, educated, and sang with Shalhevet in the Beit Midrash Monday morning, Dec 5.

In a last-minute assembly that caused davening to be moved to before first period, the 71-year-old African American transported all present students and faculty to the deeply intolerant Deep South of the ‘60s.

Emphasizing the importance of non-violent and legal protest, Mr. Patton described methods of fighting prejudice after the Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954 paved the way for integration.

In May of 1961, Mr. Patton boarded a Greyhound bus travelling from Nashville, Tenn., to Jackson, Miss., in an organized publicity stunt to shed light on the still unwavering discrimination against blacks in the South.  As they arrived in Jackson, Mr. Patton and his fellow  “riders” were arrested by police for allegedly inciting riots and disturbing the peace.

But the arrests were part of the plan. At one point, Mr. Patton described how filling local and county jails became a strategic goal of the protesters.  The strain on the penal system added insult to the injury incurred from the negative publicity of the violence and prejudice.

Throughout his presentation, Mr. Patton sprinkled dramatic stories of mob brutality along with a documentary on the Freedom Rider’s efforts.

“He was really inspirational — the way he gave up on his education for freedom,” said junior Shayna Gurstein.

Mr. Patton also fielded questions from the audience, such as Reb Tuli Skaist’s question on how religion affected the Freedom Riders.

After his presentation, Mr. Patton led the entire room in a song he sang while jailed in Mississippi: “I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom (x3), Hallelujah!”

The room caught on to the lyrics by the second repetition of the song, with most students and teachers joining in.

“I felt like I was a part of it and I enjoyed singing with him,” said freshman Rachel Glouberman. “I thought it was really cool to hear about his life.”