This article was written for the Feb-March 2012 newsletter by Kristin Carlson, Coordinator for the Northwest Coalition for Human Rights
On Saturday, January 14, 2012 the Latah County Human Rights Task Force held its 19th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Community Breakfast at Moscow Junior High School. The Task Force was formed in 1988 and promotes human rights education on the Palouse through several events, including Human Rights Day at the Moscow Farmers Market, which is held every September. The MLK Community Breakfast, started in 1994, brings human rights education to elementary, junior high, and high school students through essay and art contests, which are awarded at the breakfast each January. This year the junior high cafeteria was decorated with posters featuring quotes from leaders such as Benito Juarez, five-time president of Mexico, and Mahatma Gandhi.
In addition to awards for student work, the breakfast also honors community members from the Palouse who have contributed to human rights education. This year Rosa Parks Human Rights Achievement awards were given to Juan Corona, Vice President of the Associated Students of the University of Idaho, and Rula Awwad-Rafferty, a University of Idaho Arts and Architecture Professor. Corona was recognized for his work with other on-campus groups to promote diversity and equality. Awwad-Rafferty focuses on human rights in her teaching and on campus, in work abroad, and by working with the city of Moscow’s Human Rights Commission and the Palouse Peace Coalition.
Each year the breakfast also features a significant speaker or performer who can contribute to knowledge of civil rights history. This year Robert and Helen Singleton spoke about their journey as Freedom Riders into the segregated South in 1961. The Singletons described their experiences traveling in Europe when Robert served in the Army, noting they could visit any store or restaurant they wanted on their travels. This contrasted with life in the U.S., even in their home in Los Angeles, where they fought discrimination in barbershops, department stores, apartment rentals, and restaurants. Next, the Singletons took a serious step to challenge segregation in public transportation practices in the south by participating in the third Freedom Ride. Previous Freedom Rides had been met with fire and beatings, and the Singletons knew their trip would result in arrest if not violence.
Helen explained she experienced southern segregation growing up, when her family traveled from Philadelphia to Virginia to visit her grandmother each year. They brought their own food with them because south of Washington D.C. no restaurants would serve them. “As young as I was,” Helen said at the breakfast, “I could feel the tension in the car…It also made you feel a little less than you thought you were.”
The Singletons were arrested on July 30, 1961 in Jackson, Mississippi, long before reaching their final destination of New Orleans, along with more than 300 Freedom Riders. They were tried, fined and incarcerated at Parchman Penitentiary. By participating in the Freedom Rides, the Singletons challenged Mississippi and other southern states to comply with two U.S. Supreme Court decisions ruling racial segregation unconstitutional in interstate travel. This and other civil rights strategies led to the enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which helped bring down the barriers to equal opportunity in America. The Singletons noted that President Barack Obama was born on August 4, 1961, at the same time they were being arrested and tried for their efforts to bring about equal rights.
Dr. Robert Singleton also spoke to students at the University of Idaho Commons on Friday, January 13, 2012. Read more about Moscow’s 19th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Community Breakfast in the Lewiston Tribune: https://nwchr.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/01-15-12_lewiston_tribune.pdf