'Freedom Rides' end with rally in N.Y. Brought attention to migrants'
John J. Goldman
Los Angeles Times
Oct. 5, 2003 12:00 AM
NEW YORK - Culminating bus journeys throughout the United
States modeled on the Freedom Rides that fought segregation in the South, tens
of thousands of demonstrators gathered in New York on Saturday to urge more
rights for undocumented immigrants.
The demonstration in Flushing Meadows Park was designed to heighten awareness
of the plight of immigrants who are seeking a clear path to citizenship, to
reunite with their families and greater protection in the workplace.
"When I was 21 years old, I got on a bus in Washington, D.C. There were
13 of us. We traveled to the South to bring down those signs that say white
man and colored man, white women and colored women . . . " Rep. John
Lewis, D-Ga., told a cheering crowd. "In 1961, 42 years ago, we won.
"Forty-two years later, the Freedom Riders of 2003, you are going to win
because you are right," Lewis told the rally. "Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr. would be very proud of every one of you for being here today."
Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., told the crowd it was making history and
"making our country better."
The gathering under a gray sky that threatened rain was sponsored by a broad
coalition of labor unions, immigrant rights organizations and church groups.
They have said a key goal has been to draw more immigrants into the labor
movement and gain legal status for millions of undocumented workers.
"We cannot go on simply ignoring or tolerating the plight of those
brothers and sisters of ours," said Cardinal Edward Egan, leader of the
New York Archdiocese.
Many of the speakers urged the defeat of President Bush in the 2004 election.
At one entrance, an organizer for former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who is
seeking the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, passed out literature
pledging greater support for immigrant workers.
"Justice, Amnesty, Liberty," signs proclaimed.
"No human being in the sight of God is illegal," the Rev. James
Lawson, a 1961 Freedom Rider and a colleague of King, told the crowd. "No
human being in the sight of God is undocumented."
Lawson, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference, was the closing speaker.
Many at the rally who held up the flags of their native countries, were
members of New York labor unions.
For some gathered in the park within sight of Shea Stadium, it was a time for
memories of events more than four decades past.
"Freedom Summer, I was in Jackson, Mississippi, and I remember riding
through towns in the Delta and seeing all of the vestiges of the racism that
existed and see people whom I knew get locked up, be put in jail, be
brutalized," recalled Oliver Gray, 62, a New York City municipal union
official. "People died that summer."
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