1961 was an ugly time for America. The country was being held hostage by the radical views of racial terrorists. They lynched hundreds, burned houses, murdered scores and brutalized thousands who dared to challenge their reign and Jim Crow rules.
But on May 4th of that year, a band of brothers and sisters -- black and white -- decided it was time for change to come.
They boarded buses determined for the first time to fight the terrorists where they lived -- in the Deep South towns of Alabama and Mississippi. Thirteen in all, they went to war with the troops they had, the way the wanted.
In Alabama they would be beaten and nearly burned alive. In Mississippi they would be jailed and spend months in a prison camp. Their mission would spawn other attempts -- hundreds of attempts that broke the back of the segregationist's tight grip on interstate travel.
They were Freedom Riders.
This movement would help fuel the direct action that came to mark the height of the Civil Rights Era.
They were engaged, committed and for more than a few, willing to be maimed or killed for the cause.
50 years later we are faced with not only the occasion to praise their deeds, but this week we faced a grim reminder of the new terror that haunts us.
The death of Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind who used planes as weapons to kill more than 3000 people.
On that September day we too stood united for a cause, and as five decades before, sang hymns which brought us together to as the Era chant goes: "stand up for freedom!"
But nearly ten years has taken its toll -- songs which brought us together have been drowned out by yells of separation. We now hold rallies and counter rallies not only denouncing each others views, but even each other's claim of citizenry.
Even the idea of taking at face value that the first African-American President was born in the United States is doubted in veiled racist corners.
To make matters worse we are also less engaged and less informed of the basic knowledge of rights and principles we now scream the person next to us lacks.
A recent study of basic civics discovered that 76 percent of high school seniors can't name a basic right of the first amendment; or descibe a function of our highest court in the land.
But this week perhaps we saw a glimmer of hope. The announcement of OBL's death produced flash mobs singing once again -- united in subways, ballparks and in front of the White House. Even the polarized partisan Congress usual political attacks of the otherside have been muted -- albeit not completely silenced.
During the seven month campaign more than four hundred people joined the Freedom Rides. A lesson that teaches us if we are going to stand for something, the rate of success is far greater if we stand together.
These days there's a lot of empty seats on the bus -- and that makes us weaker in our fight against the terrorists.
Kapitol Hill encourages readers to leave comments. Join our Facebook Page: Kapitol Hill.