Civil rights ‘Freedom Riders’ cherish Martin Luther King’s lasting legacy, 50 years on

Freedom Riders Bob and Helen Singleton are pictured at their home in this still image from video in Inglewood, California, U.S., March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Alan Devall

By Jane Ross

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Bob Singleton only met civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. once, but that meeting changed his life.

As the 50th anniversary of King’s death approaches on April 4, Singleton and others have been reflecting on the man who inspired them and the legacy he left behind.

It was early 1961 and the then 24-year-old college student was protesting against Woolworths’ racially segregated southern lunch counters at a picket line outside the company’s Hollywood, California, store when King was introduced to him by a mutual acquaintance.

“He marched with us in front of the Woolworths store and that really made me, from that point on, an organizer,” said Singleton, now 81.

Soon after that meeting, Singleton organized a group of University of California Los Angeles students to travel to Jackson, Mississippi, to enforce federal desegregation laws at the train terminal.

They were known as the Freedom Riders, and among the group was Singleton’s wife, Helen, now 85. She, too, was inspired by King.

“He was able to make you feel that, whatever burden you might be carrying, carry it with dignity and hope. And then also take action,” she said.

The Singletons and hundreds of other young Freedom Riders were arrested and jailed. But by November 1961, the federal Interstate Commerce Commission’s ruling prohibiting segregation on interstate transportation facilities was being enforced across the South.

“We won that battle,” said Bob Farrell, 81, who was arrested in Houston, Texas, in one of the last organized Freedom Rides in August, 1961. “Inside of one year we contributed to changing public policy that had been there since the beginning of the 20th century.”

But the civil rights struggle was far from over. King was killed on a motel balcony in Memphis by an avowed segregationist on April 4, 1968.

Farrell traveled to Atlanta for his funeral.

“I can remember what it was like finally getting over to Ebenezer Baptist Church and preparing for the great march to Morehouse College where Dr. King was going to be temporarily buried,” he said.

“The silence, the silence once the body came out of the church, the silence on that long march and then the memorial celebration at Morehouse College with the speakers,” he said. “It was just something I’ve never experienced before or since.”

The Singletons and Farrell agree there has been significant progress in racial equality in the five decades since King’s death, but all are dismayed at the current state of U.S. race relations.

“The fact that, 50 years later, there’s so much still to be done just demonstrates to me and to others how deep, how very, very deep white supremacy, its premises and the dynamic that still propels our nation, is still there,” Farrell said.

(Reporting by Jane Ross; Editing by Paul Tait)

The Dream of a Young Evangelist

We recently celebrated my 50 year Anniversary in Ministry and what a celebration it was!  There were many people from years gone by that surprised and delighted me on the show!  It seems nearly impossible that it’s been that long, yet I can remember some things as if they were yesterday.  As a young Evangelist, I would hold revivals from Tuesday through Sunday night and then travel on Monday to the next location.

Quite often, after preaching and being in the anointing at church, I would turn on late-night TV to unwind.  There was very little to watch at that hour except Johnny Carson.  I remember listening to everything they would talk about; most of it gossip, politics or entertainment news of some variety.  It didn’t take long for me to be completely annoyed by all of the frivolous things that passed for late-night talk show content.  I remember thinking “why doesn’t someone talk about Jesus?”

It was this small, yet profound inspiration that led me to break new ground in a revolutionary Christian talk show – so that Christians could have an alternative to the world’s ‘babble’ and more people could participate in talking about Jesus!  I began on “The 700 Club” and eventually moved into pioneering “The PTL Television Network.”  PTL inspired the birth of countless other Christian talk shows.

Before long, there was an abundance of Christian programming and those who knew Jesus could now rejoice because they had an alternative  to the world’s ‘babble’.  Now that’s what I had been inspired to do  as a young Evangelist!  To see and hear so many people talking about Jesus on television was the height of my life’s dream – not only for the Christians, but for those who were to become Christians by hearing the Gospel!

Today, the dream lives on.  The times we are living in have brought many people to Christian television seeking answers for this prophetic age just before Jesus returns again.  Even the unbelievers are looking for hope.  While a large part of the world still fiddles away their time in the mindless, meaningless pursuit of trivial things, there is a beacon of light being broadcast through the darkness.  The Gospel is still being preached, the lost are still finding their way to Jesus, and the dreams of a once-young Evangelist are still coming true.