The Freedom Rider

by Clay Scott
Photos courtesy of Allen Secher

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December 2, 2011
Whitefish, Montana
Clay Scott
CLAY SCOTT: You’re listening to Mountain West Voices. I’m Clay Scott. Last week we heard Rabbi Allen Secher talk about the long, circuitous road that took him from a small Pennsylvania steel town to Whitefish, Montana. Today we’re going to hear about the very beginning of Allen’s rabbinical career …which coincided with an important chapter in the history of the American civil rights movement. The year was 1962.
ALLEN SECHER: I was just about to start in my very first congregation.
SCOTT: You were living in New York?
SECHER: I was living in New York. I was living in Long Island New York. My first congregation was in Massapequa. And I don’t we had been there more than two or three days when I got a phone call that Martin Luther King had asked for clergy to come to Albany, Georgia, to demonstrate for integration, and I responded immediately. It didn’t take me more than 30 seconds to say, ‘sure I’ll be there.’
SCOTT: Allen made the 26 hour drive to Georgia with three other rabbis. When they got to Albany, they gathered in a small church with about 75 other northerners, both clergy and lay people, white and black.
SOUND OF SINGING “Meeting Tonight”
Harlem churchSCOTT: At the church they met Martin Luther King who thanked them for coming. He also told them there was a pretty good chance they would end up in jail.
SECHER: So we formed a demonstration, and we were all arrested. It was a prayer service is what we did. We were in a circle and we did a circle and a prayer service. We were arrested. And thrown in jail. In Albany, Georgia. Well, we accomplished something. We integrated the jail.
SCOTT: Two years later, Allen was at a conference of rabbis, when the call came again from Martin Luther King.
SECHER: There had been marching demonstrations for some time, every night, in the old slave market of Saint Augustine Florida. Would any of the rabbis consider joining those marches? 17 of us said yes.
SCOTT: When the rabbis arrived in Saint Augustine, they were addressed once more by Martin Luther King.
SECHER: That night we were going to march from the black area through the white area to the slave market, and return. And what King told us was be on the lookout, because the night before someone had been shot and killed along the route. As it turned out, I ended up leading the march, and I was paired with a young black girl, a girl I guess in her 20’s. And they told us what you do is hold hands with your partner, and we sang…the whole way, you know. Freedom songs.
(SCOTT) What did you sing? Sing one?
(SECHER, SINGING) “We shall overcome, we shall overcome…deep in my heart I do believe, we shall overcome some day…”
SECHER: I think it’s important to tell the story, and it’s important to tell the story so the story is told and it’s not lost…it doesn’t go down the drain…so that others realize what had gone on then…so that it’s not just about turning on Facebook and seeing that your friend had ice cream for dinner. It’s realizing a piece of history, and about how those things affected history as time went by.
SONG: THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE
SCOTT: You’ve been listening to Rabbi Allen Secher of Whitefish, Montana. There’s a lot more to his experience as a freedom rider than we can fit in today’s story, but you can learn more at mountainwestvoices.org , where you can also hear dozens of archived stories from around the Rocky Mountain West. Our series is produced in association with the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West, a regional studies and public education program of the University of Montana. Additional support was provided by the Greater Montana Foundation. I’m Clay Scott.