I was listening to Democracy Now this morning and I got to know about a Caucasian Midwesterner named James Zwerg in a lengthy interview with a fellow 1961 Freedom Rider, named Bernard Lafeyette, with DN host Amy Goodman.
Zwerg, which in German means dwarf or munchkin, is a living legend for my fellow Midwesterners back in the USA. Yet hardly any of us know who he is are or was.
Zwerge and 11 others changed American history back in 1961-1962. These 12 disciples (black and white) of non-violence started the Freedom Rider wave that transformed American participation in the Civil Rights movement in the early 1960s--a decade of positive activism. They challenged the local and national government to support the Supreme Courts December 1960 decision outlawing segregation on interstate transport.
Incidentally, last month, my alma mater, Bethel College in Kansas, had celebrated the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s visit to that Midwestern college campus. MLK's visit took place at Bethel just a year before Freedom Riding first began to leave an impression on American memory.
Jim Zwerg had been attending a small college in Beloit, Wisconsin that same year, 1960. A black roommate there had given him a copy of MLK's STRIVE TOWARDS FREEDOM to read. After reading Kins' work, Zwerg was hooked and as a sociology student, he became extremely fascinated by the Black experience in America, which Zwerg had only peripherally known until attending Beloit.
The very next year Jim Zwerg found himself as an exchange student at Nashville's Fisk University.
Zwerg, in his DN interview this morning, reveals that he had inadvertently started a local push in Nashville to desegregate the city's cinemas when he had naively asked his black fellow students at Fisk to go to the movies with him. For that local movement to desegregate the cinemas of Nashville, many Nashville students were subsequently trained in Non-Violence techniques for the first time by CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality.
After CORE leaders and trainers left Nashville again, these activist students quickly realized that they could and would not simply stop. They knew that they had been empowered, and eventually America would change.
In Nashville, these twelve young disciples of these principles of non-violence (including James Zwerg) soon acted in opposition to elder community leaders and civil rights activists. They decided to take on the segregated South transportation network of 1961 without any master plan.
Those 12 college students determined to ride buses and trains--blacks and whites together across the South until something happened. When they got arrested and beat up, waves and waves of other Americans followed their examples, creating the Freedom Rider movement of America.