In the documentary film Freedom Riders, which I watched yesterday, there are frequent interviews with John Patterson who was the governor of Alabama at the time of the Freedom Rides. He was a segregationist, and his refusal to provide protection for the Freedom Riders allowed them to be beaten severely by white mobs. The interviews are curious. He comes off as intelligent and he speaks frankly and unapologetically about the time. He is never put on the spot by the interviewer. One comes away from the film curious about his current views. (He was in his late 80s when the film was made.) I looked him up and it turns out that he renounced his segregationist views a long time ago. (I wonder why he wasn’t given the opportunity to say so.) He insists, and of course he’s right, that in those days being in favor of integration in a place like Alabama was political suicide. Even more interesting, in 2008 he endorsed Obama for president. The Freedom Riders were not supported initially by the Civil Rights establishment—including Martin Luther King. It was thought they were pushing things too far, too fast. In the end they won. I think their pacifist stand had a lot to do with it. They were young, and many people thought them hopelessly naive. But they had courage, good hearts, a good sense of humor, and smart tactics. When Mississippi tried to intimidate the Freedom Riders by locking them up in the notoriously severe Parchman Prison rather than in a relatively easy city jail, the Freedom Riders said, “Okay, let’s fill the prison with so many of us that putting us in prison becomes a huge hassle for the state of Mississippi.” And they did it. They sent hundreds of volunteers—black, white, men, and women—down to break the segregation laws, and Mississippi was overwhelmed by it all. The Freedom Riders are true heroes, not the fakes who get passed off as heroes nowadays.
Why Obama: An Addendum