1960s Freedom Rider visits with Lindbergh students

Matthew Walker Jr. told Long Elementary School students 'it is possible to resolve conflict without resorting to violence.'

Matthew Walker Jr. told Long Elementary School students ‘it is possible to resolve conflict without resorting to violence.’

On May 24, 1961, a 19-year-old Matthew Walker Jr. bravely boarded the first bus from Montgomery, Ala., to Jackson, Miss., as part of the Freedom Riders movement to end segregation.

As he shared his story with fifth-graders at Long Elementary School on Feb. 9, one of the students raised her hand and asked Walker if he was frightened during the three-hour trip.

“I was scared to death,” Walker stated in a district news release.

The heavily guarded bus had to unload at the Mississippi border after a bomb threat was made, and when they finally arrived to the bus station, Walker and his fellow passengers were arrested for breach of peace because they refused to leave the whites-only area.

“I had a lifelong experience living with segregation,” he stated. “It was a double standard of justice in the South.”

Walker’s visit was part of the annual Hands-On Black History Museum, which is presented by kindergarten teacher Deborah Nelson Linck. Linck’s exhibit is on display throughout the month of February and features memorabilia and exhibits highlighting African-Americans’ accomplishments and experiences, from slavery to the first black president, and everything in between, including sports, inventions, space exploration and music.

Walker also met Martin Luther King Jr., whom he called “brilliant,” on the eve of the Freedom Rides. Following his arrest, he spent 39 days in the county jail and state penitentiary, singing songs with his fellow inmates to stay strong and endure the miserable conditions.

“We would sing in jail to celebrate what we had done and because it made us feel less afraid,” he stated in the release. “But the jailers didn’t like it. They took away our mattresses, our toothbrushes and the screens in our windows. It was a question of whether or not they could break our spirits, and they didn’t break our spirits.”

The lesson Walker hopes students will take with them is that even a young person can take action for positive change.

“Always try to resolve conflict through nonviolent means,” he stated. “It is possible to resolve conflict without resorting to violence.”