It all started in early June of 1966 when, as a first-year law student at NYU, I said good-bye to my tearful mother by the entrance to the Fort Tryon Park subway station at the uppermost tip of Manhattan, rode the A train downtown, and boarded a Greyhound bus heading south.
My destination was Louisiana New Orleans; Bogalusa (home of the Deacons for Defense and Justice, the first modern-day African American organization to carry weapons and respond with force against the Klan); and Plaquemines Parish (home of both arch-racist Leander Perez and a young black man named Gary Duncan who became the petitioner in the United States Supreme Court case that established the constitutional right to jury trials in the fifty states).
Over the two years that I commuted between law school and the South, the essence of my journey became less and less one of destination. In crossing Border Street (the street separating the black community from the white community in Bogalusa) and crossing one borderline after another, I changed too. From my initial belief that the issue of black and white relations was a problem that could be solved easily if everyone simply did the right thing, I came to the painful realization that the issue was complex and multilayered, a problem I could no longer understand, much less resolve. As I came to perceive this dilemma, I also understood that the real journey I had been making was not a journey to the South as much as a journey of self-discovery a soul journey.
Looking back, I can say assuredly that the civil rights movement made a vital and enduring difference for those of us who participated in it. We were profoundly transformed by the experience. The movement gave our lives new meaning. For a moment in time, blacks and whites worked hand in hand with a common vision. And that vision has stayed with us as we have moved through life with our families, our friends and people we have met. As a friend said, "it changed you, and you passed it on to others."
The above paragraphs are taken from my memoir, CROSSING BORDER STREET, published by the University of California Press. Copyright, 2000, all rights reserved.
With a special dedication to two of the most inspirational people I have ever met Gayle Jenkins and Robert Hicks. Both were leaders of the Deacons for Defense and Justice in Bogalusa, Louisiana. No matter what risks I took while in the South, I felt safe knowing that they were on my side.
Copyright, 2004, by Peter Jan Honigsberg.