Listeners Reflect On Freedom Riders' Struggles

Host Michel Martin and NPR digital news editor Tanya Ballard Brown comb through listener feedback and offer updates to recent conversations on Tell Me More. This week, listeners weigh in on the death of Osama bin Laden and the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides. Ballard Brown also gives an update that Apple has announced a reduction in how long its iPhones store location tracking data.

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MICHEL MARTIN (Host): And now it's time for Backtalk, where we lift the curtain on what's happening in the TELL ME MORE blogosphere and get to hear from you, our listeners. With me today is Tanya Ballard Brown, one of NPR's digital news editors. Welcome, Tanya; thanks for joining us.

TANYA BALLARD BROWN: Thanks for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: This week, the death of Osama bin Laden dominated the news. Earlier I spoke with civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar - he's one of our regulars - and also Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld. He's the leader of Ohev Sholom, the national synagogue that's here in Washington, D.C. And we talked about whether it was appropriate to rejoice in the wake of bin Laden's death. Well, Iftikhar said bin Laden's death is certainly cause for some people to celebrate - even Muslims. Rabbi Herzfeld questioned if it is ever appropriate to revel in someone's death.

RABBI SHMUEL HERZFELD: The Proverbs state: Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and don't let your heart be glad when he stumbles. So we shouldn't be celebrating - certainly not publicly - at this time.

MARTIN: We got a lot of reaction to that conversation. We'll just play one of them for you. One of our listeners, Tunje Leyade(ph), posted to our website. And he had this to say:

TUNJE LEYADE: At the end of the day, it's not bringing back those who lost their lives. It doesn't change the fact that the towers are gone. It doesn't change the threat of global terrorism. There's something weak about celebrating one man's death to that degree, giving him that much power. To me, it's an uneducated response in my bigger picture that our children will face in the future.

BROWN: Thanks, Tunje, for reaching out to us. Now, Michel, after your conversation about how or if we should explain bin Laden's death to children, some of our listeners weighed in. Here's what Tim Robinson Ayer(ph) posted. When I was 5, this sort of thing would have never showed up on my radar. My parents let kids be kids, and adult news was not part and parcel of the media that I consumed - one of the ways that the world has moved on and not for the better. You shouldn't have to explain to a 5-year-old what a terrorist is, or why our government assassinated him.

MARTIN: Thanks, Tim. We also had a conversation on Wednesday about the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides. Now, the Freedom Riders were an integrated group of activists who rode the buses to challenge racial segregation in the Deep South.

(Soundbite of movie, "Freedom Riders")

JIM ZWERG: You could see baseball bats, and pieces of pipe, and hammers and chains - and one fellow had a pitchfork.

MARTIN: That comes from the documentary "Freedom Riders." And the voice you just heard was that of Jim Zwerg. He was describing the hostile crowd that bus riders faced when they reached Montgomery, Alabama.

BROWN: After hearing our discussion with a couple of Freedom Riders, listener Mary Tony posted this to our website. My first experience with bias was a Greyhound bus eatery in Mississippi. I was 5 or 6, traveling by myself for the first time. A kind, black woman took pity on me. In the restaurant, the manager came to our table, ordered me to sit at a table on the other side. I pitched a fit. Smarter and wiser, she suggested we go eat in the bus, where it was quieter.

I remember the past very well. I first thought maybe we had reached a milestone when Obama was elected president. However, the political garbage - such as his birth certificate and the childish fighting in Congress - tells me not much has changed. The disease of bigotry is alive and well, just hidden under a coat of makeup.

MARTIN: Well, thank you, Mary. And I thank all those who weighed in with their memories and recollections. And thank you, Tanya, for joining us.

BROWN: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: And remember, with TELL ME MORE, the conversation never ends. To tell us more, you can call our comment line at 202-842-3522. Again, that's 202-842-3522. Please remember to leave your name. Or you can go to NPR.org, click on Programs, then on TELL ME MORE, and blog it out.

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