Freedom RiderGordon Negen

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A Christian Reformed pastor from Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1961 Negen read about the Freedom Riders — people led by Martin Luther King Jr who challenged segregation on buses in the U.S., most notably in the South. What he read was ugly: one bus had to be evacuated after it was firebombed. The Ku Klux Klan boarded another, and beat a retired professor so badly he was in a wheelchair the rest of his life. A third was attacked by a mob of 300 (including women holding babies) while police stood by and watched. Faced with that kind of hostility, Negen signed up as a Freedom Rider himself — one of 436 people of various races who rode on 60 buses to protest segregation. They all made a pledge not to respond physically to violence. The peaceful protest worked: there were arrests, there were more beatings, but the rides continued, and after seven months the federal government finally enforced a 1960 Supreme Court ruling prohibiting such segregation. Before he died, Negen asked for others not to send flowers or memorials, but rather “find someone in need, deserving or undeserving, and give them, in person, a gift or a meal.” Rev. Negen died September 27 from diabetes. He was 79.

From This is True for 2 October 2011