The Freedom Rides of the civil rights era were the focus of the 31st Annual Colloquium for middle- and high-schoolers sponsored by the Brookdale Community College’s Center for Holocaust, Human Rights & Genocide Education (CHHANGE).
Some 1,500 students, teachers, and invited guests gathered on the Lincroft campus May 10 for presentations by Freedom Ride veterans, Holocaust survivors, and experts who tied their stories to themes of equal rights and resistance.
Keynote addresses were delivered by Lew Zuchman, who was among the young people who traveled south in the 1960s to fight segregation, and Lewis Erskine, the lead editor on a 2010 documentary about the era.
Workshops featured survivors of the Holocaust, as well as the children and grandchildren of survivors.
About 50 students from Thorne Middle School in Fort Monmouth and Willingboro High School heard Ruth Rosenfeld describe her early childhood in Poland, which she spent running and hiding from Nazi oppressors. When both her parents were killed, one in Auschwitz and the other by gunshot, she and her sister were cared for and protected by Christian families who risked imprisonment or death on their behalf.
When the war ended, the sisters were reunited and spent time in a number of French orphanages before being adopted by a couple from Interlaken.
“Recognize that each of us is marked by whatever we experience,” Rosenfeld said, in response to a student who asked about the war’s impact on her life. “As for me, I am mostly a positive, optimistic person. Nevertheless, when I come into a new space, I still instinctively look for a potential hiding place.”
In his keynote address, Erskine said that he grew up in a socially conscious household, and when he was 11 his family joined the 1968 March on Washington to campaign for a federal anti-poverty package.
That experience and the conversations he heard around the dinner table helped him in the editing of the Freedom Riders film, which was shown on PBS stations.
Erskine screened an eight-minute clip that captured the segregationists’ violent response to the Freedom Rides. On May 14, 1961, in Anniston, Ala., for example, a bus was set on fire, and when smoke and flames forced the Freedom Riders outside, they were badly beaten.
Zuchman, executive director of SCAN (Supportive Children Advocacy Network) New York, was joined on the stage by two others who took the long bus trips and risked physical harm in support of their beliefs: Luvaghn Brown, from Hartsdale, NY, and Joan C. Browning of Lewisburg, WV, who said she was the last person chosen for the final Freedom Ride.
In his talk, Zuchman said he had been an angry young man growing up in the Forest Hills section of Queens. His idol was Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play Major League baseball. “I admired how Robinson stood up for himself,” Zuchman said. When Robinson joined several civil rights leaders in supporting the Freedom Riders, Zuchman signed up.
Zuchman quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s famous statement about indifference, which ends, “And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”
“We are all our brother’s keeper,” Zuchman said.
Dale Daniels, CHHANGE’s executive director, said the colloquium draws the largest audience for the center’s events.
This fall it expects to open a brand-new facility at Brookdale. At 3,800 square feet, it will be two-and-one-half times larger than the present space, and will include, said Daniels, “a brand-new classroom and room for a permanent exhibit.”