BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - In 1961 hundreds of young men and women, both Black and White, rode together on segregated buses and trains through the Deep South in a call for racial equality. On the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders, the movement is the focus of a new documentary. One of those members talked about the importance of getting the story out.
After watching a preview of the American Experience documentary "Freedom Riders", Mississippian and Freedom Rider Hezekiah Watkins said he was impressed by the accurateness of the film.
"I really enjoyed it," said Watkins. "The reason I enjoyed it is because what I saw was actually what took place in 1961. There's been a lot of documentaries. There have been a lot of books. There have been a lot of things that have been said and things that have been shown that have been inaccurate."
After the showing Watkins told an audience at the Beau Rivage how he joined the Civil Rights movement at a young age. At 13 years old, he went to see the Freedom Riders in Jackson and was mistaken for a member of the group. He was taken to Parchman Penitentiary before later being released to his mother. After that Watkins said he began to see the importance of getting involved in the Civil Rights movement and encouraged other young people to do the same despite the dangers.
Watkins said, "Any time we did a sit in, a boycott or anything like that, your life was in danger. Sometimes the police would come out and just shoot for whatever reason. Luckily we weren't hurt. But in jail there were several beatings. As a matter of fact, I was beaten several times in jail. "
Fifty years later, Watkins says what people can learn from Freedom Riders is to always try to make positive difference in the community and stand up to injustice.
"It's not about age. It's not about sex. It's not about race. It's about an individual who sees something that's wrong and tries to make a right,"said Watkins. " You just need a heart. You need a desire. If you see something out there that needs to be done, then my thing is do it."
Mississippi Public Broadcasting will air the Freedom Riders documentary on May 16th at 8 p.m.