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City Paper Header Nashville Freedom Riders

Freedom Riders visit city

By Colleen Creamer,

September 30, 2003

Mayor Bill Purcell Monday greeted two buses of Freedom Riders as they made their way through Nashville en route to Washington, D.C., in hopes of pushing federal legislators to revamp immigration laws.

The Nashville contingent is not alone. Across the country, nine hundred Freedom Riders boarded 18 buses in nine cities this month with the goal of leaning on legislators to overhaul what they consider unjust and antiquated immigration legislation. The Freedom Ride agenda includes giving immigrants an easier path to citizenship, allowing immigrants to bring their families to the United States and the protection of undocumented workers from exploitation.

The cross-country trip is similar to the one taken by the Freedom Riders of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.The buses plan to stop in over 100 cities before reaching the nation’s capital. The group will converge on Washington D.C., Thursday and Friday to meet with legislators. On the way, the travelers hope to build enough steam to make the trip to Washington worthwhile.

“As you arrive in Nashville today you will find a city that rejoices in our own diversity that reflects on all of the changes that have occurred. We are so much stronger today than we were all that many years ago when we were less diverse and did not appreciate the strength that would come from being a place that welcomes so many,” Purcell said.

As the mayor finished his greeting, Iro Nelly Mora, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, asked the mayor to match the commitment to end segregation that former Mayor Ben West made to then student Diane Nash and a congregation of protesters on the courthouse steps in 1961. The 1961 march of thousands had been spurred by the bombing of the home of prominent African American Z. Alexander Looby. West made the commitment to begin to end segregation in Nashville and implemented changes in the fire department and began the process of outlawing segregation at lunch counters.

“Ben West admitted that there was a lot of things that were wrong with this city. There was segregation and discrimination. I wanted to ask you if you stand with us. …. There are a lot of things that need to be done,” said Mora. “Do you stand with us and the cause of the Freedom Ride and what we are asking for?”

Purcell said that he had stated publicly six days earlier “knowing that you were out there in the country” by telling the people of Nashville that because the city was now more diverse it was stronger and understood the past and the “needs of the future.”

Organizers maintain that undocumented immigrants contribute $730 million each year to the U.S. economy.