Taking on the big issues

Kevin Shay
13 min readJan 3, 2019

How do you make a difference in a matter like climate change, civil rights, and war? Belief, passion, and perseverance.

A few months ago, I found a treasure in a local bookstore, a signed copy of The Children by the late journalist David Halberstam. I had read a few books on the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and met and interviewed numerous participants in those social-justice battles, including for a book I co-authored. It was a time that greatly interested me, though I was born about a decade too late to join the idealistic campaigns. I thought I knew much about that movement, so I wasn’t in a hurry to read the book. I placed it on a shelf among others and went on with my life.

While watching a recent public television documentary on the life of director Sidney Lumet, a clip from some film showed 1961 Freedom Riders in a bus stopped along a country road in the Deep South. The terror on the faces of the activists sitting in their seats grew more intense as they observed white middle-aged men and youth carrying pipes, bats, and other weapons walking towards their vehicle. As the attackers smashed the bus’s windows and started to enter through the door, one rider confronted his fear by running to the door and standing against it, temporarily blocking their assailants’ passageway. The clip ended with him sacrificing his body to the mob, as hands reached in to execute their cruel injustice.

The emotional vividness of the short clip shook me enough to research further into that time. I found my knowledge of the riders’ campaign was fairly superficial. I knew it was an important segment of the civil rights movement, one that challenged the notion of segregated public buses, which the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled unconstitutional as early as 1946. Southern states, of course, had ignored those decisions, and federal officials did nothing to enforce them. So sadly, it was up to individuals to test and ultimately make the government obey its laws by putting their own lives on the line.

What I didn’t really understand until I unearthed and read Halberstam’s richly-detailed book was what it was like for those civil rights workers, how courageous and creative they had to be to take on the decades-entrenched Jim Crow system. How could a relatively few individuals, armed with nothing but their own consciences and sense of justice, lead the way to such a profound change, which had not occurred through legal means by those whose jobs it was to make such changes?

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Kevin Shay

Investigated the JFK and January 6th plots. Walked and drove across nations. Also writes a bit. More at https://www.amazon.com/Kevin-J.-Shay/e/B004BCQRTG