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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Igal Roodenko, April 11, 1974. Interview B-0010. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Finding support for the Journey of Reconciliation along the way

Rodenko argues that for him one of the most positive aspects of the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation throughout the South was found in the support of fellow bus riders not connected to CORE. Rodenko explains that Bayard Rustin, in particular, was adept at explaining the goal of the Journey in a way that was not off-putting and that effectively garnered support. He recalls one moment in particular where a fellow bus rider asked the bus driver to not interfere as especially moving. For Rodenko, this experience was very revealing of the ways in which direct action could be most successful in raising awareness of the task at hand.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Igal Roodenko, April 11, 1974. Interview B-0010. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Were there other blacks on the bus?
I don't remember on that trip, but on some of the other trips there were, and the blacks on other trips when arrests happened would become most worried, and say in effect that you can't change the world, so be good and don't cause trouble, and come back and sit where you are supposed to. Those who would express themselves whuld express themselves that way.
To the black people who were sitting in the front?
To the black participants in the trip.
Was there a dialogue with those people?
It depended, because we were very good at talking when we were amongst ourselves, but it takes a little more when you are among strangers, and in a tense situation. Probably the most fearless person in the whole undertaking was Bayard, because he had been through a great deal of this before. When we came up forward, some woman said to us: I can understand the first two people refusing to move, but you two are deliberately breaking the law, the implication being that the first two happened to be sitting there, and we were going out of our way to cause trouble. Bayard put on a marvelous accent and asked her what the moral difference was between a premeditated and a spontaneous breaking of the law. Then some young girl sitting in front of us said in a very lovely drawl, said I think what you two people are doing is marvelous, and I want you to take my name and address, and if you ever need my help in court, please call on me. Then Bayard, being a master of the dramatic moment, started a conversation with me, a sort of inside conversation, and controlling his voice, so even though it was a private conversation, everybody on the bus could hear it, in other words, he was going to have a public forum going on, a town meeting, or a bus meeting. People started responding. The preponderance of the feeling was - and we felt this on many parts of the trip - was that people felt that, yeah. the law was wrong and that discrimination against blacks was wrong, but that to shake up the thing was to make things worse. I know that by the end of the trip, in Kentucky at one point, we had been driving along with the integrated thing for part of our trip and there were some more passengers who came on, or maybe the bus driver was changed along the way, and maybe this new bus driver wanted to break this thing up, and some white passenger spoke up and said, don't give them any trouble, these people have been sitting together since Roanoke or wherever, and nothing has happened, and you the bus driver are the one making the trouble. That is the kind of experience that has been meaningful to me over the years, that when one gets involved in programs in political change, which requires a certain amount of courage and self-righteousness, it is very easy to fall into the trap of saying that all the others, the masses, are brain-washed and stupid and negative, but the experience of those two weeks on the bus trip were a real gut learning for me, that you have to find ways of saying what you have to say without rubbing peoples faces in the dirt. If you say it in the right way, you are going to find an enormous amount of support for what you are saying than if you stand up and defy the whole system and the world and the establishment and everything else.