Blogging the Institute: The Freedom Riders
Monday night as part of the JWA Summer Institute for Educators, we saw a sneak preview of a newly made documentary, The Freedom Riders, which tells the story of the group of black and white young people, who rode south on two buses to deliberately break the segregation laws.
The story of the Freedom Riders is a deeply moving and often disturbing one. Many of the students were brutally beaten or injured by rascist groups in the south, but they still kept going in the face of terrible violence and a very real risk of death, and did everything they could to help shield each other from violence.
The film generated a heated and interesting discussion afterwards. The film was such an incredible story, but it seemed disconnected from the subject of this year’s Institute: Jewish involvement in the civil rights movement. Watching The Freedom Riders wouldn’t give you a clue that any Jews were civil right activists, let alone such a large percentage of them. As Jewish educators, some Institute participants felt that, wonderful that the movie was, they might not use it in their classrooms. Instead, they would rather have something that focused on the Jewish stories in the civil rights movement. This discussion brought up some interesting issues about the challenges of teaching history.
In any moment in history, there are as many perspectives as there are people who were involved, and many facets of each story one could focus on. Which stores are important to tell? Is focusing on the Jewish elements of the story appropriate when Jews were not the stars of the movement? These are only some of the big questions we are wrestling with this week.