I’d like to return to the Freedom Riders to discuss the courage of a twelve year old seventh grader in Anniston, Alabama. Her father warned that agitators were coming from the North. He said, “He and some of his friends had a little surprise party planned for them.” When the bus arrived they crippled the bus, barricaded the riders inside, and set it on fire. A series of circumstances provided an opportunity to escape the inferno; however, they were not out of danger. Once outside the bus, the mob began to beat them.
Hearing the people cry for help a young girl, Janie Forsyth, had to respond. She ran home, returning with a bucket of water and stack of cups. She picked out a person, took her a glass of water, and washed her face. Janie picked another individual to help, and continued on her mission to relieve the suffering.
Janie was interviewed for the American Experience: Freedom Riders – The Young Witness. She said, “I knew what I was doing was going to irritate and possibly dangerously incense the people who set this whole drama up because I was undermining it. I didn’t care…” Even though her father was a member of that mob, she was not deterred. She said, “My dad didn’t talk about it ever with me…” In later years she asked the black woman who raised her, “Pearl, tell me something. My dad never got over being mad at me about that bus…? He never got over being mad that I carried water to those people.” Pearl’s response was, “Mr. Richard told me that he’d never been prouder of you than he was that day.”
Janie’s actions inspired the story of Addie walking along the road. Missy recognized the danger for her friend, but the fear of being seen together and the ramifications weighed on Missy’s mind. Compassion for her friend finally won. I wanted Missy to demonstrate the courage of Janie Forsythe. Each girl made the fateful decision to respond with kindness.
I encourage you to view The American Experience: Freedom Riders to hear Janie’s story, as well as those of other valiant crusaders.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Santayana