TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) -Bob Singleton only met civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. once, but that meeting changed his life.
As the 50th anniversary of King’s death approaches on April 4, Singleton and others have been reflecting on the man who inspired them and the legacy he left behind.
It was early 1961 and the then 24-year-old college student was protesting against Woolworths’ racially segregated southern lunch counters at a picket line outside the company’s Hollywood, California, store when King was introduced to him by a mutual acquaintance.
“He marched with us in front of the Woolworths store and that really made me, from that point on, an organizer,” said Singleton, now 81.
Soon after that meeting, Singleton organized a group of University of California Los Angeles students to travel to Jackson, Mississippi, to enforce federal desegregation laws at the train terminal.
They were known as the Freedom Riders, and among the group was Singleton’s wife, Helen, now 85. She, too, was inspired by King.
“He was able to make you feel that, whatever burden you might be carrying, carry it with dignity and hope. And then also take action,” she said.
The Singletons and hundreds of other young Freedom Riders were arrested and jailed. But by November 1961, the federal Interstate Commerce Commission’s ruling prohibiting segregation on interstate transportation facilities was being enforced across the South.
“We won that battle,” said Bob Farrell, 81, who was arrested in Houston, Texas, in one of the last organized Freedom Rides in August, 1961. “Inside of one year we contributed to changing public policy that had been there since the beginning of the 20th century.”