Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Freedom Rider Jerry Moore: Our conversation with a civil rights hero

Posted By on Wed, Jun 8, 2011 at 6:53 PM

Freedom Rider Jerry Moore
  • WGBH Boston
  • Freedom Rider Jerry Moore

Tomorrow, the sixth annual Windrider Film Forum will kick off at Colorado College's Armstrong Hall. While multiple film showings and discussions will take place between June 9 and 11, the most riveting has to be the appearance of original Freedom Rider Ivor "Jerry" Moore — who was 19 years old when his group of buses was attacked in Anniston and Birmingham, Ala. — and the screening of PBS' new American Experience documentary Freedom Riders at 7 p.m. (Note: Moore, a musician, will also perform a free pre-forum concert in Acacia Park at noon on Thursday, June 9.)

We recently got the chance to chat with Moore for over an hour, and while we feature our conversation with him in this Thursday's Independent, much was cut for space reasons. So here's some of what you won't see in the paper.

ON PROMISING HIS PARENTS HE WOULDN'T RIDE:
"It was something that had to be done; it was something we were doing. I wasn’t with the buses when [the ride] came out of Washington, [D.C.] — we were in Sumter. And we had been doing, you know, sitting-in and doing voter registration work. We knew the buses were coming. As a matter of fact, when I was home at Christmas, I had mentioned at the dinner table one time about the Freedom Rides, and I was thinking about joining them; Mom had really freaked out, ‘No, you’re not going on those rides.’ They got a promise out of me that I wouldn’t go."

ON MEETING DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. IN ATLANTA:
“You know, I don’t remember. [Laughs] I read a couple things, but I don’t remember. I remember meeting him, and I kinda didn’t push too much ... I remember that he came to see us off, when we were leaving Atlanta. My mother actually used to train the choir for Dr. King Sr., so my family was pretty familiar with him."

ON BOARDING THE BUS TO ALABAMA:
"The person that had my attention was, there were two men sitting at the counter there; one guy had a blue suit. And actually he got on the bus, and he sat behind me — I sat behind the bus driver, and this guy sat behind me all the way up to Cedar[town], Georgia — and he was the one who came up to the bus and announced that we were gonna get it in Anniston ... At that point, I more or less thought they’d pull the bus over and I’d get lynched or something, but ... basically all the way to Birmingham they were just taunting."

ON ARRIVING IN NEW ORLEANS FROM BIRMINGHAM, AND LOSING FAITH IN THE FBI:
"While we were in New Orleans, I got the call that my grandfather had died — I guess it was a YMCA or something we were in — and it was a pay phone, it was near the front door, and I got off the phone. Within a couple minutes of me hanging up the phone, the FBI, they were right there, man. I guess they’d been sitting outside while I was talking on the phone, and they had me in the car, talking to me. And they were saying to me the exact same things, you know, 'They’re a bunch of commies, and they’re troublemakers,' and it was the old thing that I always got, that I was a good guy, but I was naïve and [the organizers of the Freedom Ride] were taking advantage of me.

"I don’t think they really realized what they were saying, because to say to me that the only people that cared about our freedom, or justice, or — you know what I’m saying? — were troublemakers and agitators and communists and un-American; you know, I thought what we were going for was the American thing: the Freedom Rides for justice, equality, the American Way. And now these guys, the FBI, are telling me that the people who are for those things are un-American."

ON ARRIVING BACK ON CAMPUS IN SUMTER:
"I had to go back to the campus alone, and I know we’d been on the news. And I got to Columbia, South Carolina, and I had to get a cab to Sumter. And this guy, this white cab driver, he was taking all the back roads — through the back woods, man. And there was this car following us, so I didn’t think I was gonna make campus. But years later, I started wondering; I said, ‘Well, maybe he thought I was gonna mug him, maybe it was his friend.’ But it was probably the FBI following, I don’t know."

ON LIFE IN SUMTER, S.C., WHERE RACIST SHERIFF IRA BYRD PARNELL RULED:
"I got word that Herman [Harris] — he had stayed on campus — that he had been kidnapped off the campus, and he’d been cut; you know, he had Ks cut in him, and different marks cut in his back, and his arm. So, when I went to one of the radio stations ... they said that they’d heard about it, and that the sheriff had supposedly given Herman a lie-detector test and said that Herman was lying, that he did it to himself. And for us that didn’t make sense, because this guy was stereotypically The Sheriff, you know, racist sheriff. His thing was that, 'The niggers’ll never take Sumter,’ I remember him saying that one time, and he promised me he was gonna see me in a coffin."

Editor's note: The South Carolina Senate adopted a resolution on Jan. 9, 1990 expressing "the deepest sympathy of the members of the Senate to the family and many friends of Mr. Ira Byrd Parnell, Sr., of Sumter, who served for 28 years as Sumter County Sheriff, and who died Monday, October 9, 1989."

ON THE PUBLIC'S REACTION TO THE DOCUMENTARY:
"Now, since this whole Freedom Riders thing, something that’s embarrassing for me a lot of times is ... Like, I’ll run into people and they’ll say, ‘Hey, I saw you in that documentary. Thank you.’ And they want to shake my hand, or something, and say thank you. And that kind of flips me, you know, ‘cause I don’t know what to do with that. [Laughs] I don’t know, but it’s just the way ... things are moving ahead. It’s funny because there’s so many positive things going on, but the battle ain’t over."

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