American Experience: Remarkable people who once walked the earth!


A program that’s hugely worth watching: Last night, WHUT re-aired it. We sat there and re-watched it.

You might want to watch it too. We refer to the 2011 American Experience program, Freedom Riders.

Even the second time around, this has to be one of the best documentaries we have ever seen. The program can be seen in full at this WGBH site.

We offer one word of warning:

There is a danger in watching this program. The danger is this:

Such programs may tend to make us think that we and our friends are The Very Good People, while everyone who isn’t exactly like us is one of The Very Bad People.

We’ll suggest a different framework for watching this program:

Some truly remarkable young people were involved in this project. Almost surely, we and our friends are not like those people.

Those young people were extremely advanced, as is clear if you watch this program. Ideally, we should strive to learn from these very unusual people, a few of whom are known today, most of whom are not.

We didn’t want to watch this program last night. It started at midnight, and it runs two hours. But this is a program which is hard to stop watching once you start.

Remarkable young people are seen in this program, an advanced race which once walked the earth.

Diane Nash, highly advanced and evolved: In 1961, John Siegenthaler was a ranking assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

At one point in the program, he describes his attempts to get the Freedom Riders to stop because of the violence now known to be waiting for them:
SIEGENTHALER: My phone in the hotel room rings and it's the Attorney General. And he opens the conversation, “Who the hell is Diane Nash? Call her and let her know what is waiting for the Freedom Riders.”

So I called her. I said, “I understand that there are more Freedom Riders coming down from Nashville. You must stop them if you can.” Her response was, “They're not gonna turn back. They're on their way to Birmingham and they'll be there shortly.”

You know that spiritual, “Like a tree standing by the water, I will not be moved?” She would not be moved. And, and I felt my voice go up another decibel and another and soon I was shouting, “Young woman, do you understand what you're doing? You're gonna get somebody—Do you understand you're gonna get somebody killed?”

And there's a pause, and she said, “Sir, you should know, we all signed our last wills and testaments last night before they left.”
As he continues, Siegenthaler characterizes this conversation in a way we found a bit disappointing. Diane Nash, then a Fisk student, was part of a highly advanced group of people. She and they were far more highly evolved than those seen around us today.

For the full transcript, click here.


  1. It's Seigenthaler, Bob, not Siegenthaler.

    And I highly recommend John Lewis's memoirs published a few years ago for a first-person account of the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins, the growth of SNCC and the Freedom Rides.

  2. In 1961, I was a junior in high school - just a bit younger than many of the brave Americans depicted in this documentary. It's humbling to recall what I was doing then compared to what they were doing.

  3. Thank you so much for linking to the transcript for those of us who prefer written stuff.

    I've read this piece three times and boo-hooed without fail.

  4. No, Bob, we are not like they.

    Today, we would be blaming the black kids for provoking the violence and holding those who beat them unaccountable for it.

    1. What's the joke? When a liberal says "we" he means thee.

      Come on. Things aren't worse than 1961, my friend.

    2. Yes, dearie. We've come a long way. And we have a long way to go. Even if things aren't worse than 1961.

    3. That you have a long way to go is evident by your condescendingly calling me dearie.

    4. Come on Mc, be a man. If you were he could have called you a pud pulling troll.

    5. And it would still be an inaccurate description of me, penis or not.

    6. Anon9:53am, our friend Poo-poo humbly wishes to be called "Emperor Daibazaal, grasper of the Tusk"

      If it makes you feel better, I'll call him Emperor Daibazaal, grasper of the Pud.

    7. That's much better. It will serve as a contant reminder to us all of Somerby's observation that:

      "Remarkable young people are seen in this program, an advanced race which once walked the earth."

    8. A grandiose pud-grasping comparison, indeed.

  5. Bob,
    How many leaders in history had the courage to turn the other cheek?
    Jesus Christ.
    San Suu Kyi.
    Louis Armstrong.
    I am sure I overlooked some people with the same qualities. Some, maybe, lesser known. I apologize to them. But still very few.

    And even Jesus evicted the money changers from the temple.

    In the Old Testament God the Father said "Vengeance is mine", and "An eye for an eye".
    We still worship him.

    People like those listed above are extremely rare gems and have reaped their just (historical) rewards; but even among the best, many have been jailed and/or killed.
    Evil remains among us.
    To be led like a lamb to the slaughter is not in my DNA. Sorry.

    Every year I re-watch Dr. Kings speech. He says something that has yielded very little commentary but always causes me to tear up. The second clause.
    He says " I have a dream. Deeply rooted in the American dream".
    Deeply rooted in the American dream.
    The American dream.


    1. Turning the other cheek is a basic skill for getting along with people that we all practice every day, if we want to (or have to) interact with other people. What characterizes the people you listed is the magnitude of the provocation. They provoked and then turned the other cheek to the reaction. But most people endure the small provocations of our life situations daily, whether they arise from racism, sexism, poverty, religious minority, looks, or any of a variety of human conditions that evoke mistreatment.

      What made it possible for King and others to do this is their knowledge that by turning the other cheek, they would be able to accomplish their goals. Most of us can endure anything if the goal is sufficiently important to us. They drew the connections between the behavior and the goal and they did it first for themselves and then for others. THAT is why we honor them. They were very smart and understood what needed to be done and they helped organize collective cheek turning to reach their goals.

      If we assign certain people magical status, then we absolve ourselves of striving in the ways they did. We can admire them from the distance of past or the height of the pedestal we've placed them on, without having to inconvenience ourselves much. I prefer to see these people as human beings who chose to dedicate their lives to worthy goals and were successful in their struggle -- but they are not otherworldly martyrs, because that means no one need emulate them and we can all just go about our business without following in their footsteps. That's why I hate to see these larger-than-life creations of supermen admired on the anniversaries of important accomplishments for the folks they inspired.

    2. The point I tried to make is that the vast majority of humans will not turn the other cheek.
      Vengeance is mine.
      Magical? No. Pedestal? No. Unique? Yes. End up in jail or dead? Likely.


    3. Anon7:16pm, in order for these people to believe they would achieve their goals they had to have faith in their country and in their fellow man.

      They had to believe that most people are basically good or at least can see and discern goodness when it's displayed, and can be changed by that.

      I think we've lost that optimism and that trust in a spark of goodness in every man. It has been overtaken by an ethos of entitlement and instant results that is spurred by a sense of sanctimony that leaves disdainful of opposition, and unwilling to compromise.

      This new American has been cultivated by politicians and tv preachers, Wall Street, anyone who stands to profit from it.

      In the end, it doesn't make us more pragmatic, or effective. It makes us negative and isolated. At bottom, it makes us tyrants.

    4. Cecelia, please speak for yourself. If YOU have lost "optimism and trust in that spark of goodness in every man," don't project that on everyone else.

    5. Actually, Anon8:49, I was only opining on you.

    6. What? You don't know the difference between "we" and "you"?

  6. Agree entirely, except that I think they walk among us still. Plenty of heroics going on all the time, though almost never in the public eye. BUT, these kids were very, very special.

    Casey Chapple

  7. 18 previous posts, seven from Cecelia, five from me.

    Welcome to TDH.

    1. Anon10:10am, you need to start pulling your weight around here.

  8. For more stuff on Diane Nash, in her own words, go to the Maker's website for an interview with her. It's worth the trip over there.


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