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Update: A Modern Freedom Ride To St. Louis County

Emanuele Berry | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 8/30 9 p.m.

Just as the Freedom Riders for the 1960s found shelter in a church, so did the modern Freedom Riders who made their way to St. Louis this weekend.

Nearly 300 young activist from 20 states gathered at St. John United Church of Christ this weekend to kick off a variety of efforts in St. Louis. The group heard speeches from local people who have been involved in Ferguson, including St. Louis rapper Tef Poe.

The ride is the brain child of the organizers behind the "Black Lives Matter" hashtag. The social media tag was created shortly after George Zimmerman, who shot Trayvon Martin, was acquitted.

The hashtag and the ride are part of a budding coalition of activism around the country, focused on ending police brutality against blacks.

A Freedom Summer

Letia Epps of North Carolina wasn’t sure she was going to make it to St. Louis.

“We put this together at the last minute,” she said.

Epps is part of a group of seven riders who drove to St. Louis from North Carolina. She said even though it was difficult to make the trip happen she knew she had to come to St. Louis.

“As soon as I saw this opportunity come up, it was kind of like OK I’m doing this you know,” Epps said. “It doesn’t matter what I have to do. How much faith I have to have to make this happen, because there was a lot of that involved. I was just like you know, no matter what, we are going.”

Lulu Matute traveled to St. Louis from the Bay area. After going to Los Angeles to pick up more riders, the trip took 30 hours. She says it’s an experience she won’t soon forget.

Credit Emanuele Berry|St. Louis Public Radio
Lulu Matute traveled from California to St. Louis.

“It was beautiful to be in a van with 30 people who are all love and all here for one cause,” Matute said.  

It was also hot, she says, but the heat connected the group with the freedom riders of the past.

“I tweeted out we are hot and wifi-less. It was 108 degrees and a sister tweeted back ‘intergenerational solidarity, the freedom riders 50 years ago were also hot and wifi-less,’” Matute said.

Beyond being hot, Matute explained that riders also experienced support and confrontation on the road like the 1960s freedom riders.

She said they wrote “Ferguson,” “Power” and “Freedom Ride” on their van. While some people “showed their love and support," Matute says others were not so kind.

“When we were going through Texas and Oklahoma, truck drivers are booing us, doing shot guns signs at us,” she said. “So it was an experience, most definitely, but we know what we embarked on and we feel very proud to be here for a greater purpose.”

For Matute, who is a videographer, part of that purpose is to document history.

“I believe that we are writing history right now. And were creating a history book and real pages and we control the narrative. Therefore I feel that it’s very important for photographers, videographers, tweeters, Instagramers, everybody to come out here and share the hashtags, share pictures, share the love, the vision and the idea and this energy.”

Our original story:

Today marks the start of theBlack Lives Matter Ride. Activists from nearly 20 states are traveling to St. Louis County, echoing the Freedom Rides of the early 1960s. Hundreds of participants will remain in St. Louis over the weekend to engage with the community.

From a march in Ferguson on Aug. 15
Credit Durrie Bouscaren / St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio
From a march in Ferguson on Aug. 15

“The Black Lives Matter Ride” was organized by a coalition of groups across the country, including the Organization for Black Struggle and Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment.

Patrisse Cullors is one of the coordinators for the ride. She’s traveling to St. Louis from Los Angeles. Cullors says the event is about ending police brutality everywhere.

“I think the reason why so many people across the country are showing up is because it’s not just about Ferguson, it’s about all these towns and cities across the country that are fed up,” Cullors said.

Over the weekend, visiting activists will hold discussions on ending racial violence, offer what they call community healing clinics and more.

Cullors says she feels the movement spurred by Michael Brown's death could have a permanent impact nationwide.

“We'll now we have a network of about 600 people across the country. I think that, if we continued to be organized and stay the course, we can utilize this network to be a force,” Cullors said. “Not just in Ferguson, but we hope to do a ride to Detroit around their water issues. We hope to do a ride to Los Angeles and the continued police brutality that exists there or New York. We hope that this effort will push us in the place where we say Ferguson is only the first destination. We will have more destinations and that’s going to be up to us as a collective.”

Marches and petitions

This evening a coalition of groups including the Organization for Black Struggle and ColorOfChange will deliver a petition to the White House asking for justice for Michael Brown as well as national changes to policing. The coalitions say they have gathered nearly 850,000 signatures for the petition.

On Saturday, the Justice for Michael Brown Leadership Coalition is holding a National March on Ferguson. The march will start on the corner of West Florissant Avenue and Canfield Drive. The march will travel down Canfield Drive to Michael Brown's memorial and end at the Ferguson Sports Complex at Forestwood Park