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Freedom Rider Speaks to Augustana College for King Day

Dr. Bernard Lafayette Jr. during a zoom with the Augustana College community
Dr. Bernard Lafayette Jr. during a zoom with the Augustana College community

Protesting with nonviolence means learning how to "put love into action." That's according to Dr. Bernard Lafayette, one of the original Freedom Riders.

Lafayette was the featured speaker virtually today for Augustana College's King Day observance.

In 1961, Lafayette joined the Freedom Riders when he was a 20 year old college student. The group fought against Jim Crow laws in the South by protesting segregation at lunch counters, bus and train stations, and movie theaters.

During one such protest, Lafayette remembers waking up to water dumped on him by a member of the Ku Klux Klan in a bus station in Birmingham, Alabama. And he responded by thanking the Klan member for waking him up.

"Give your best whenever you have the opportunity, even if others give you their worst. Always respond with your best."

Lafayette told the students that he learned the power of nonviolent protest as a college student in 1960. He and others tried to integrate lunch counters, bus stations, and theaters.

"How do you behave in such a way that you are able to get even those who consider themselves your opponents to become your companions? That's the goal in nonviolence."

During Lafayette's time as a Freedom Rider, he experienced jail time, bombings, and beatings.

Dr. King appointed him to be the national program administrator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and national coordinator of the 1968 Poor People's Campaign. In 2016, Lafayette received the Mahatma Gandhi International Award for Reconciliation and Peace.

This talk put on by Augustana College's Office of Student Inclusion and Diversity in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.