Dan Stevens

CORE Freedom Rider 1961-62 Mississippi, Tennessee
Current Residence: Chicago, IL
Email: danstev@mindspring.com
Web Site: peacefulfreedom@blogspot.com

In the summer of '61 I received a letter from Jackson, Mississippi, from the Jackson County Jail. It was from Heath Rush, whom I had known as a teen at the Bruderhof commune in New York and had met again just that spring at a race relations conference at Wilmington College in southern Ohio, where I was going to school. Heath was a student at Wilberforce State College about 20 miles away. We exchanged addresses, and so it was that he wrote from jail.

"We have food, we have light, we have water," he said. "Go to the nearest CORE representative and come on down!"

There was a CORE chapter in Ann Arbor. On Sunday my mother drove me down to Ann Arbor. From there, I went with several people to Cincinnati, then to Montgomery, where our full group assembled. We rode from Montgomery to Jackson on 7/7/61, arriving at the Trailways station in the early afternoon. There was a sign saying "Five Star Service", and I looked around and, yup, there were at least five stars on the people who were welcoming us.

We were planning to fill the jail and overload the system, so we were committed to staying in jail for six months, but in the end it was only for about 6 or 7 weeks. By the time I got there, the process of arresting us had become routinized, and except for one verbal harasser on the bus, I didn't experience anything resembling violence.

After the ride I hung out with several other riders and hitchhiked for a month or so between Hayward County, TN, Chicago and NYC, trying to find help restarting a voter registration drive that had foundered, but found no takers.

We got busted for vagrancy in Nashville, were rescued by Ann Arbor Friends Meeting and a local friend, and decided that just wandering around with no legal backup was too hazardous.

That fall in NYC I got busted for climbing a crane at the construction site in Queens for the Rochdale public housing project. The project was to house black people who couldn't get jobs, but was being built by white people who wouldn't let them into the unions. We climbed up 14 stories and chained ourselves to the crane.

Then I got arrested rushing a bus of strikebreakers at a hospital workers union picket line.

Then... in 1998, at the Matthew Shepherd memorial march and candle-light vigil, 37 years later, I got arrested for walking in the street. The police had cleared the street! We were 5000 strong — where else were we going to walk?

Other than that, I spent 40 years with the same man, got kicked out of the Trotskyites for being gay, was a hippie candlemaker for 10 years, was a "consultant" — a mainframe DBMS contract programmer — for the NYC public schools and for the Paine Webber brokerage house, and am into ekagata Buddhist meditation.

I was delighted to be able to support others of us in gathering the focus and the words, before our reunion, to liberate two women who were trapped in the dregs of the Mississippi prison system, given two life sentences each for abetting an $11 robbery. Our petition — and our threat to boycott the Mississippi reunion if they weren't released — got them sprung. Even in old age, we can make change.

Now I see a new generation of radicals making the world over, once again, into a better place. They are riding the information explosion, just as we were riding the new visual broadcasting medium, television, and using television news to bring the South's problems to the country at large. They are broadcasting on their blogs, bringing the problems of a world dominated by corporations to the world at large for solution.

The perpetual revolution is in good hands.

 


 
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