Drawing on the Freedom Rides of the civil rights movement in 1961, Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King, Jr., is promoting an event called Pro-life Freedom Rides in Alabama and Georgia. The reason for the event, she explained to CNA, is that the focus of the new civil rights movement is the defenseless unborn child.
The Freedom Rides will begin with an assembly at Birmingham, Alabama on July 23. After a Saturday morning prayer vigil at a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic, participants will caravan to Atlanta, Georgia for a pro-life service at the grave of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In a Tuesday phone interview with CNA, Dr. Alveda King recounted the civil rights era and its connection with the pro-life movement.
“We went through a lot of dramatic experiences on behalf of human dignity, and love for humanity,” she said. “Back in those days we were primarily fighting against oppression on color of skin. Now in the twenty-first century the focus is on the babies in the womb.”
Though she noted the disproportionate number of black babies killed in abortion, she emphasized that the effort to end abortion is “about all humanity.”
“We are fighting for dignity, for justice, for compassion for all people.
“Today, the little baby in the womb appears to his or her mother very much like a little slave. He or she cannot decide whether he or she will live or die, but the mother, sometimes the parents, the medical providers (though I say that cautiously because it is not a medical procedure to kill a person) … those decisions are made without the baby having a lawyer to defend his or her human life.
“He or she is just like a slave at mercy of slave owners,” Alveda King told CNA.
Asked about the original Freedom Rides, she explained that in 1961, laws were passed on behalf of black people so that they could stay in hotels, ride the bus, and have “the same rights that all people had.”
“There were students in 1961 who boarded the bus to test those laws. Those were very tumultuous times, and people lost their lives. Not just black people, but all people of goodwill who were involved in that.”
Alveda King explained that she, Priests for Life head Fr. Frank Pavone, and many pro-life leaders from across America, will take the bus to Atlanta and pray at the tomb of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
She said she looked forward to “the whole experience” of the Pro-Life Freedom Rides Campaign, especially “revisiting another time period that was very important to me.” She also thought she would enjoy being with pro-life leaders from across America and joining in prayers with “many, many people who are praying for life.”
Jim Pinto, the Birmingham-based organizer of the Pro-Life Freedom Rides, in a separate phone interview told CNA that the original freedom rides faced “great resistance,” including the burning of one of the buses in Birmingham.
“Those who stood up for the rights of human beings, and the violence and brutality they suffered, were portrayed for all the country to see,” he explained. “In a few moments, the civil rights movement impacted this nation in a way that may be unprecedented.”
He noted that as a child Alveda King’s house was bombed in reaction to her family’s civil rights work.
The Birmingham events were one of the reasons the Pro-Life Freedom Ride Campaign chose Birmingham, Pinto continued, because it is “synonymous” with the civil rights movement that “changed the nation forever.”
“The whole idea is to say that every human being is endowed with liberty and freedom by God to be the human beings that God has called them to be.
He explained that Alveda King emphasizes that the pro-life movement is “the civil rights movement of our time.”
“The foundation of the civil rights movement, the foundation of the pro-life movement, is one foundation: the sacredness and dignity of the person, the inviolable right to life, the equality of all people inside and outside of the womb,” Pinto said.
The unborn “are people, they are persons, even though this nation is denying their personhood … We are sponsoring the Pro-life Freedom Ride Campaign to declare their liberty, their freedom, their personhood.”
He said organizers had no estimated number of participants, as there was no registration process. However, he predicted “quite a big response.”
Pinto reported that the campaign has the “full support” of both the Catholic Bishop of Birmingham Robert Baker and the Archdiocese of Atlanta. The campaign also has support from Protestants including Pentecostal and Evangelical churches.
He added that there has been a “very good response” from the media, who are “quite interested.”
Pinto reported plans are being developed for another campaign in October for another city, which will be announced during the first Pro-Life Freedom Ride.
He said he particularly looked forward to the opening assembly, where the new pro-life song “The Least of These” will be sung.
“We'll have black and white together in that assembly, it is going to be profound.”
Addressing Catholics specifically, he said they should remember that they are “sent by God to evangelize the world.” “The pro-life freedom ride is just a reminder of what we’re all supposed to be doing: love our neighbor as ourselves, in and out of the womb, black and white, old and young, rich and poor.
“We just want to remind you that you are a missionary of the gospel of life.”
The website of the Pro-Life Freedom Rides is at http://www.priestsforlife.org/action/pro-life-freedom-rides.htm