Blog post #1 — Yuezhu Chen

This summer, I work as a Research Assistant for Kogan Communications, where I report to the owner of the firm, Dr. Kogan, every workday. Our research topic is mainly about the Civil Rights Movement; the most consequential moral movement of the last century, and how civil rights activist, Congressman John Lewis contributed to the movement and to American society.

During the first several days of work, I mainly conducted research on some clips of the Civil Rights Movement that John Lewis was actively involved in. For example, I tried to find detailed information as much as possible for the First Freedom Ride. The First Freedom Ride began on May 4, 1961, when 13 freedom riders (7 blacks, including John Lewis, and 6 whites) left Washington, D.C., on two buses, aiming at New Orleans. The intention of the ride was to test the Supreme Court’s ruling in Boynton vs. Virginia (1960) which ruled segregation in interstate buses unconstitutional. One of my jobs was to conduct research on the ride and write a detailed chronology — where the riders were each day; if they were attacked, the reaction from the governmental officials and the public, etc.

During the research, I found several websites and books that depict Freedom Rides in detail. One of the most notable books is John Lewis’s memoir, Walking with the Wind in which Lewis narrates his experiences during the Movement along with his physical and mental feelings. While closely reading the book, I not only understand the courage of the freedom riders but also the importance and greatness of non-violence means of fighting. I listened to the interviews that John Lewis had in the 21st century where he not only talked about the Movement but also juxtaposed it with recent events. The role that John Lewis played in the Freedom Rides and the Movement was notable, and his experiences and leadership could serve as a model for present civil rights activists. In addition to John Lewis’s memoir, I hope I could have more narratives on the practice of nonviolence. 

John Lewis, left, and Jim Zwerg, a Fisk student, checks out their injuries after been beaten by a mob after they arrived in Montgomery, Alabama, May 20, 1961. (cr: USA Today)

Conducting research on the historical events triggered by racial segregation also has significance today. The Civil Rights Movement shows how structural racism was handled in the U.S., which is also a learning goal of mine doing the research. The leadership of John Lewis is also inspiring for people of color, like me, who want to fight for racial equality in the country.

Other than the Freedom Rides, I also conduct research on China and USSR’s propaganda to the Civil Rights Movement in the Cold War era when the triangular relationship of three countries (U.S., China, and the USSR)  was subtle but sensitive. My native proficiency in Chinese also enables me to analyze the primary sources in Chinese, thereby get more access to a variety of materials. In the recent future, I hope I can deepen my understanding of how international relationships influenced the Civil Rights Movement through research.

Work documents snapshot