By Jerry Moody
As the bus to Washington DC pulled out of Lexington for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Justice, my mind went to freedom riders of an earlier day. Sitting in this comfortable seat watching TV, the air conditioner cooling my brow, from time to time checking the internet for the latest news or weather reports, I thought of how much different this must have been for those first buses pulling north. Those were hot overcrowded school buses rolling down country roads from backwater Virginia or anywhere Alabama, from the Charlestons and Tupelos that lay spread throughout the Southeast. Each bump in the rode must have sent the riders bouncing into each other.
Two hours into the trip at a rest stop, I thought again how much different it must have been. No clean freshly mopped restrooms spaced evenly along a smooth ribbon of super highway. At best maybe a gas station, with explicit or understood WHITES ONLY signs resting above the restroom doors and leering white station owners affording the colorful bus-goers little privacy or dignity.
Pulling back onto the freeway as I closed my eyes to sleep, I drifted off wondering about the sleepless hours on that earlier long bus ride towards the promise of freedom. A child nestled in her mothers’ arms. A man struggling to stay awake, staring out the window as the night sky rolled by, the flat tires, the overheated motors, the long winding twisty roads rocking the bus back and forth.
Even having seen DC a dozen times, glimpsing the Washington Monument always gives me a sense of awe. Pulling into DC and seeing it this time was no disappointment. The monument’s majesty still leaves me breathless. After disembarking and snapping some group pictures, we made our way past the brown stoned Smithsonian Castle, a building containing much of the history of our nation, and, with the sun heating up the morning air, toward the Lincoln Monument.
Only at this point did I get a true feel for the mass of people gathering. Making our way through the crowd, we found a place beside the reflecting pool. Across from us on the other side of it, a large patch of people dressed in bright yellow stood holding aloft a sign from the Unitarian Universalist Church: Standing on the Side of Love. From behind me, up the path came what seemed like thousands of blue shirted union members calling for jobs and justice. All around people of all ages, colors, and races stood clapping, cheering, laughing, crying, and singing. Not even the sight of the Washington Monument could have brought more joy and pride to my heart than I felt right them.
As I rode the bus home to Lexington, one thought kept coming to my mind: How small was my sacrifice in making this trip, how muted my joy and pride, how weak my determination, in comparison to those who made this trip 50 years before?