Among the stops were locales etched into the liberal American consciousness such as Selma and Birmingham, Alabama and Oxford, Mississippi, all sites of deadly racist violence.
What these modern freedom riders did meet is a climate of obsession of the civil rights movement to seek vengeance against racist killers, the "... American expiation drama ... of last-chance prosecutions of old civil rights crimes" (New York Times, July 29, 2001).
The expiation drama lives on.
Last month, the “Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act” was passed by the U.S. House.
But I see in this effort of today's civil rights movement a saddened grim reaper—doggedly, even fanatically, chasing racists, seeking their incarceration for the decades-old despicable acts of deadly violence.
After the conviction in 1994 of Byron De La Beckwith for the 1963 assassination of NAACP field director Medgar Evers, a national television news broadcast showed Myrlie Evers-Williams in seeming ecstasy, as she "broke into a smile, shouted a cheer and raised a clenched fist to the sky in triumph," as the New York Times reported.
I watched Evers-Williams, who had long campaigned for the Beckwith prosecution, live on CNN on that day in 1994. I remember thinking, frankly: "What is she so happy about? Now, the 73 year-old racist, murdering man of her husband can spend the rest of his life in an American prison."
In 2001, a jury convicted 62-year-old former Klansman Thomas Blanton, co-conspirator in the infamous 1963 Birmingham church bombing, of murdering four children.
Other prosecutions and convictions of murdering racists continue with the approval of today's civil rights establishment whose apparent sentiment is that the killers be "brought to justice".
What ludicrous conception of justice is being subscribed to? Not the ideal of justice that animated the work of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Lest this gauntlet thrown at the feet of the civil rights movement be mistaken for a David Horowitz-type sop to the right-wing, avowed enemies of civil rights, let the reader regard this challenge as issued from the pacifist-inclined left.
In a younger day, I idealized the American civil rights movement of the 1960's.