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OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT by Ann Bausum,  National Geographic, January 2006

"Why did I participate in the Freedom  Rides?  The answer is simple.  It was 
the right thing to do."
--Jim  Zwerg

"What's that I hear now ringing in my ears
I've heard that sound  before
What's that I hear now ringing in my ears
I hear it more and  more
It's the sound of freedom calling
Ringing up to the sky
It's the  sound of the old ways a-falling
You can hear it if you try
You can hear it  if you try"
--Phil Ochs

During the spring of 1961, Jim Zwerg boarded a  train for Nashville, 
Tennessee where he was signed up to participate in an  exchange program at Fisk 
University.  He would end up meeting John Lewis  and getting involved in the 
Nashville Student Movement.  That May, ignoring  his mother's pleas not to do so, 
Zwerg would join a group of brave young people  and take a bus ride to end 
segregation.  That bus ride nearly cost Jim  Zwerg his life when he and the other 
so-called Freedom Riders were set upon by a  mob of hundreds that had been lying 
in wait for their arrival at the  Montgomery, Alabama Greyhound station:

"Mob members threw him over a  railing, knocked him to the ground, kicked him 
in the back, and stepped on his  face.  Zwerg blacked out, oblivious to the 
continued assault.   Attackers pulled him into a headlock and punched his face. 
 Women pounded  him with their handbags.  When he slumped to the ground, 
people kicked him  in the groin, ribs, and face, then hauled him up to repeat the  

Hours later Zwerg was filmed for the national evening news lying  in his 
hospital bed.  In a statement to the cameras that he wouldn't  remember giving, 
due to his injuries that included a concussion, he  insisted:

" 'Segregation must be stopped.  It must be broken  down.  We're going on to 
New Orleans no matter what.  We're dedicated  to this.  We'll take hitting.  
We'll take beating.
"We're willing  to accept death.' "
Zwerg's determination caused many people to drop what  they were doing and 
join the Movement.

With my having written  several years ago about Christine Hill's book, JOHN 
LEWIS: FROM FREEDOM RIDER TO  CONGRESSMAN, I already knew much about John
Lewis, the black kid who grew up  picking cotton and preaching to his 
family's farmyard animals in the segregated  South.  John Lewis, who I am excited 
periodically catch a  glimpse of on TV doing his work as a member of the US 
House of  Representatives, was sitting next to Jim Zwerg on that bus heading 
into  Montgomery.

But I knew nothing of Zwerg, the white kid from Wisconsin who  grew up -- as 
I did -- so utterly removed from people of color and from the  horrible daily 
indignities that Lewis and millions of others  regularly faced.  At the time 
that John Lewis, Jim Zwerg and so  many others were riding that bus and risking 
their lives, the Civil Rights  Movement was, for me, something scary and 
confusing on the evening  news.
"Teach your children well"
--Graham Nash

Amidst the pages and between the lines of  FREEDOM RIDERS, Ann Bausum's 
latest stellar book on the lesser-known American  heroes behind our nation's most 
important human rights movements, I  found myself anxiously seeking to discover 
any lessons that  might be found in regard to how Jim Zwerg was raised, that 
he was  willing to selflessly risk his life for the sake of people with whom 
he seemed  to have so little in common; that it was clear to him that he would 
do the right  thing.

"Great moments in any life may grow from the smallest of good  intentions.  I 
find it's the day-to-day acts of kindness, caring, giving,  and loving that 
really make a difference in peoples' lives.  You don't have  to participate in 
a sit-in or go on a Freedom Ride to make a difference.   You can help make our 
society and our world better.  Look around you.   See what needs to be done 
in your school, neighborhood, city, or state.   Make a decision to do something 
about it.  Then take action.  The  seemingly small 'first step' you take 
today may have a profound and lasting  impact for good in someone's life."
--Jim Zwerg 

Part of my desire  to really understand the coming of age of Jim Zwerg 
results from my having  been listening to eighth graders here in Sebastopol who are 
presently studying  Mildred Taylor's CSK Medal-winning masterpiece, THE LAND.  
As my English  teaching wife Shari attempts to connect the dots by 
instigating discussions  about the nature of tolerance and how the story of Paul 
Logan and  Mitchell Thomas relates to Birmingham AND Belfast AND Bagdad AND  
being kind to all of the other kids on campus, whether they are seen as trendy  
and popular or not, I am hearing from many of these adolescents a sense of  
helplessness, cynicism, and doubt that their generation might be the one to 
push  humankind over the edge into a more tolerant world.  I am not  hearing the 
sounds of freedom calling that might inspire  confidence that these kids are 
growing in the direction of doing the right  thing.
Sure, it is developmentally appropriate for adolescents  at this age to be 
cynical and focused upon themselves as they strive to  become individuals and 
develop their own identities.  But it is equally  true that teens exposed to 
stories of Jim Zwerg, John Lewis, and Paul  Edward Logan will better understand 
how anyone can be a hero by making a  difference, whether large or small, that 
small differences can send ripples  out in all directions, and that making a 
difference -- making the world  a kinder, more caring, giving, loving place -- 
is one of the  most  fulfilling things one can strive to achieve.
Ann Bausum has done such an effective job of relating the  stories of John 
Lewis and Jim Zwerg that it makes me wish for a chance to  someday personally 
meet these guys.
In 80 pages containing several dozen photographs, a timeline,  a resource 
guide, and an unforgettable true story of heroism amidst the  making of American 
CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT is a book that should be read  and booktalked by 
librarians and teachers everywhere.
Richie  Partington
Student, SJSU  SLIS
Richie's Picks _http://richiespicks.com_ ( 
Moderator, _ 
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