Pictured above: William Leons with a fellow Freedom Rider (possibly Rita Carter from Oakland, CA, of Ride 21) at a 1961 KTLA television interview.


I lived in Holland during the Nazi occupation. My father was a Jew and, consequently, I saw my family and myself subjected to treatment that the Negro is experiencing in the South today. I've seen my mother beaten by German soldiers, my parents were in concentration camps, and I myself was in hiding. When I came to the United States, I thought of the United States as one country.

When I came here it didn't take me long to find out, there was a South and a North. And the jokes being made about needing a passport to go to Mississippi are not far from the truth.

Some of the most basic elements of human decency, of human rights, as philosophers have held in the Charter of Human Rights of the United Nations have set forth, have been violated in the South time and time again for many years. And the Southerners, one excuse is that, these things take a long time to soften. Well, the Civil War has been over now a hundred years, and the American Negro, and all Americans of all classes and races, feel that it's time to get moving. - William Leons

Points of personal context for individuals become points of social context for society, for nations. As with today, as with all of history, individuals with individual histories, individual traumas, and individual scars populate these points of social context. The question is always what we do with those histories, traumas, and scars, how we respond to, and what we learn from, our experiences.

When I came here it didn't take me long to find out, there was a South and a North. And the jokes being made about needing a passport to go to Mississippi are not far from the truth. 


Sixty-eight years ago on July 30, 1954, A group of approximately 100 black leaders in Mississippi publicly declined to support the Governor's plan to spend more money on black schools, in exchange for separate but equal treatment, separate being the operative word. What's the context that would incline the Governor to consider this a fine offer, and so many other men, to see this as a lousy deal?

Martin Luther King, Jr. was jailed 29 times. Sixty years ago, on July 27, 1962, was one of these many times. For this arrest, King would remain in jail until August 10. Two weeks. The crime and the context, the setting? He'd held a prayer Albany, Georgia. Of all things.

On July 31, 1960 sixty-two years ago, Elijah Muhammad called for the formation of an all black state. Considering the context, not an illogical desire.

Pictured above: Illinois Central Railroad Station, New Orleans, LA.

Sixty-one years ago this week, July 29 and 30, 1961, there were two more Freedom Rides. They, like all other rides before them, were based on a moral context: the conviction that individuals in this country have the right to travel using interstate transportation and, in so doing, be treated with dignity equal to that of any other American, regardless of color or origin. After these two rides, the tally would be 47. There would only be two more to go.

Each rider in those two groups had personal points of context which made his or her choice to participate logical to them. A video clip directly related to one of the two rides can be found here, and therein you will get a glimpse of a particular rider's personal context, some of the motivation behind their choice to. 

Our final pint of social context for July goes back one-hundred-one years ago, when a man was born who would become a World War II Army veteran, an advisor to presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, and a Rockefeller Grant recipient. On July 31, 1921, Whitney M. Young breathed his first breath. Young would also become the glue, a key facilitator, between President Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Pictured above: Party of 15 for Freedom Ride 47, from New Orleans, LA, to Jackson, MS.


THE PERSONAL POINT OF CONTEXT first appeared in ARTHAUS:Detroit's subscriber newsletter, shared 27July2022.

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