Q&A with Southern Historian Raymond Arsenault
RA: I'm more impressed with moral courage than physical courage. Physical courage is something we all can be mindful of, but I think it's the moral courage to speak out when others are not and to take the unpopular position when you know it may have very negative consequences for you.
Some of the Freedom Riders never finished their college degrees; their lives were deflected—they never really got back on track. They made real sacrifices. I know when I [researched the Freedom Rides] at the age of 19, it really redirected my life. ... I had been that person who lingered on the edge of the crowd and hoped for the best.
[The Freedom Rides] made me into an activist. I've been an activist for much of my life and [have] been very much involved in civil rights and civil liberties issues, and I'd like to think, more often than not, that I've stepped up. I'm sure I haven't always stepped up when I should have, but I've tried to follow the precepts of the people that I've studied.
Historians have to have a certain level of detachment, but you really can't be fully objective when you're dealing with people like this. We're flesh-and-blood human beings, and we're not machines. I'd be teasing myself if I didn't make my commitment and my career to doing books on the Freedom Riders.
I have tried to be as active as I can be, and I am so grateful that I was fortunate enough to be exposed to this at such a young age that I've tried to integrate that into everything I do as a professor and as an intellectual. I've chosen my subjects carefully and not in a proselytizing sense, but in a sense, it's what drives my passion.
My daughters keep saying, "Dad, are you ever going to get on the bus or off the bus?" [I say,] "No, I'm riding this bus to the end of the line."
More from the Show
Read an excerpt from Raymond's book
Lessons from the Freedom Rides
Freedom Riders: Then and now