Deadline Now: Michigan Coalition for Human Rights Freedom Tour 2013

Deadline Now: Michigan Coalition for Human Rights Freedom Tour 2013

Friday, July 12, 2013

Last month, attorney Cary McGehee was among a group of adult mentors who accompanied several dozen Michigan students on a "freedom tour," following the route that the Freedom Riders took more than half-a-century ago.

In 1961, hundreds of volunteer Freedom Riders -- mostly young Americans, black and white, men and women -- rode buses through the deeply segregated south to challenge Jim Crow laws. The Riders put their lives on the line for civil rights and justice.

In this edition of "Deadline Now," McGehee, who is the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights board chair, and Adrian Henderson and Karli Winfrey, two students who participated in the 2013 Freedom Tour, share their experiences.

On the web:

Here are host Jack Lessenberry's Final Thoughts for this edition of "Deadline Now:"

Viola Liuzzo was a Detroit homemaker back in March of 1965. She had five children and was going to college part-time. One afternoon, she was watching television when the network cut away to show scenes of helpless marchers being attacked by police with vicious dogs, clubs, and firehouses. Stunned and horrified, she vowed to help.

Weeks later, she drove to Alabama, to help drive exhausted marchers back after the historic Selma to Montgomery voting rights march. Later that evening, her car was chased by one carrying four Ku Klux Klan members. They overtook her vehicle and put a bullet in her head. She was only thirty-nine years old.

The nation was outraged. Within weeks, Congress passed the historic Voting Rights Act, which gave the federal government new powers to intervene to make sure people had the right to vote.

That act transformed the South, and ended Jim Crow. Soon, hundreds of thousands of African-Americans were voting, and dozens of them were winning elected office. White politicians drastically changed their tone and behavior. Yet threats to voting rights have never completely ended, and the Voting Rights Act remained in force,

Then last month, right as the teenagers on the Freedom tour retraced the voting rights marchers’ steps, the current Supreme Court in a five to four decision struck down a key provision of the act, saying it was no longer constitutional because it used data that was decades old.

The court invited Congress to try and write a new act that reflects today’s reality. That decision was greeted with shock and dismay by many in the historic Civil Rights community. Some thought the court’s advice was cynical, that the current Republican-controlled house would never pass any new civil rights legislation.

But Majority Leader Eric Cantor said he would support such legislation, and indicated his eyes had been opened by a trip he took down south with John Lewis, a fellow congressman whose skull had been fractured when he was a Freedom Rider.

Getting a new Voting Rights Act passed may not prove to be easy. Few such things are. But somehow I think it would be easy than what John Lewis or Medgar Evers or Viola Liuzzo had to go through.