Freedom Riders will air on PBS on May 16th at 8 central time.
MURRAY, Ky. — Threatened. Attacked. Jailed. That’s exactly what America’s original Freedom Riders faced 50 years ago this week. For Murray State University student John Walker his ride will be different, but an intense experience nevertheless.
American Experience, PBS’s most-watched history series, is sponsoring a journey to retrace the historic civil rights bus rides that changed the landscape of America. Accompanied by original Freedom Riders, 40 college students were chosen out of 1,000 applicants to participate in the bus ride from May 6-16. Walker is one of those students.
The ride is an opportunity for students to learn from history and apply it to today, as well as a catalyst for a national conversation about the role of civic engagement. The 2011 Student Freedom Ride is the centerpiece of a major outreach campaign leading up to the May 16 PBS broadcast of Stanley Nelson’s acclaimed Freedom Riders — a powerful and inspirational story of more than 400 black and white men and women who, using nonviolent tactics, risked their lives to challenge segregated facilities in the South in 1961.
This celebration of the 50th anniversary of the original event will begin in Washington, D.C., before it rolls through Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi. The bus will stop all along the way at historically significant locations. As they travel, students will share memories from original riders of a bold and dangerous experiment for equal rights.
Walker, a 22-year-old senior journalism major at Murray, is fascinated by history, particularly anything to do with social justice and civic engagement. A self-professed 20th-century history buff, Walker is relishing the opportunity to join in an occasion that marks a seminal moment in history.
His love of that history and his talent for writing will aid him during this recreated march through time. Participants are required to post “tweets” on Twitter as well as blog about the things they see, hear and learn. Walker noted that most have heard about the civil rights struggles in places such as Alabama or Mississippi, but not as much about events that occurred in the Carolinas. It is that chance to delve deeper into the subject that inspires him.
“The more we understand the struggles of the community, the better equipped we are for the future,” Walker said.
On-campus, Walker is a staff writer and opinion editor at The Murray State News and the president of MESS (Murray Environmental Student Society). He is also one of the founders of Murray Students for Progress, an organization dedicated to getting students involved and working for a more unified student voice. He believes it is valuable for students to engage while they are in college. “Giving back to communities is important. There is a total mix of people to meet,” he noted.
Walker, who is from Nicholasville, Ky., is the son of Gary Walker of Worthington, Ky., and Debra Walker of Raceland, Ky. His adventures with the Freedom Riders can be followed on Twitter at hashtag #jwalkmurray.