While each Southwest Employee plays a different role, we all have the opportunity to connect People to what’s important in their lives. I recently took this responsibility to heart and bridged one of Southwest’s Community Partners in Buffalo to an important landmark in our nation’s history—a place that also means something to me because this landmark is located in my very own hometown of Lewiston, New York.
Southwest Airlines is a proud Community Partner of the National Federation for Just Communities in Western New York, a nonprofit organizationdedicated to overcoming racism, bias, and discrimination by building understanding, respect and trust through education, advocacy and community involvement. On January 14, the National Federation for Just Communities, welcomed four of the original Freedom Riders to the Buffalo/Niagara area for a tour of the region’s Underground Railroad, and a panel discussion on their experiences with the Civil Rights movement. As teenagers in the 1960s, these four Freedom Riders were arrested and beaten for their silent protests against discrimination during sit-ins at the Greyhound Bus terminals in Mississippi. The Underground Railroad, a network of secret trails that the enslaved used to seek freedom in free states and in Canada, is significant to the Buffalo/Niagara area in many ways, especially because it marked one of the final stops before freedom in Canada.
When I learned of the Freedom Riders’ visit to Western New York, I immediately contacted someone who knows a thing or two about how significant the Underground Railroad is to our nation’s history—my dad. He led the volunteer effort of resurrecting the “Freedom Crossing Monument,” a tribute to the enslaved who sought freedom in Canada and the volunteers who helped them on their journeys to cross the Niagara River.
Four original Freedom Riders and reenactors at the Freedom Crossing Monument, Lewiston, NY. // Photo credit: Lee Simonson
The Freedom Riders’ visit to Lewiston, initially planned to be a quick stop-over, turned into an occasion that has made local history. The town’s leadership and its residents were present, as well as reenactors portraying Lewiston abolitionist Josiah Tyron and his sister-in-law, Sally Barton; Josiah, Lewiston’s volunteer “station master,” secretly assisted the fugitives to Canada in his rowboat under the cover of darkness. The gathering and ceremony evoked many emotions, many of which are too precious to convey—from both the Freedom Riders and those who came to greet Lewiston’s esteemed guests.
This connection, which was close to home for me, reminded me that there are countless ways we can bridge a gap or share a story or piece of our own personal history with others. The connections we make with the people, places, and things that define us as citizens can forever be a part of history.
Southwest Airlines makes a positive difference in the African American community during Black History Month and throughout the year by supporting nonprofit organizations nationwide.