Was on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's Bob Filner knows what it’s like to fight the good fight and change American history in the process.
That’s because San Diego’s Mayor was on the front lines of the civil rights battle here in the U.S. in the early 1960s.
Mayor Filner shared his story at a special Diversity Week gathering at TJSL on April 9 – an inspiring presentation for those fortunate enough to be there.
Not many people can say they had Dr. Martin Luther King in the living room of his home as a teenager. Bob Filner can, because his father worked with the civil rights leader.
Not many people can say they were aboard one of the “Freedom Rider” buses that rode into the South to be part of non-violent protests to end segregation. Bob Filner can, and he spent months in a Mississippi prison cell at the age of 18 after the Freedom Riders were arrested when they reached Jackson. That saved them from a mob armed with chains and bricks and bats, according to the Mayor.
“It was s searing experience,” Mayor Filner said of his prison time – not knowing if he would live through it. His fellow prisoners included such civil rights legends as John Lewis, now a congressman; Stokeley Carmichael of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; and James Farmer, who organized the first freedom rides.
“If you can bring down segregation, you can do anything,” Filner told his rapt audience in the 8th floor board room. “You can actually change America if you organize and have strong leadership.”
Bob Filner is now trying to exercise his leadership to change San Diego.
"The city has never had as progressive a mayor as I am,” he said. “San Diego probably isn’t ready for me,” he added, as he outlined his agenda of making the process of governing San Diego an all-inclusive one.
“We are stronger if we build it on diversity,” he said. “And the diversity in this city is incredible – yet decisions are not being made on behalf of everyone.”
Bob Filner’s message hit home with his audience.
“Mayor Filner is a civil rights hero,” said TJSL Professor Marjorie Cohn. “He was one of the Freedom Riders, who, at great risk to themselves, integrated the buses in the South. This was a critical part of the Civil Rights Movement. Mayor Filner told the assembled students and faculty about his experiences during this historic time, and how Dr. King and other Civil Rights leaders influenced his life. San Diego is lucky to have him as our mayor. It was an inspiring evening."
“I enjoyed the event. I felt privileged to hear from someone who played an active role in such an iconic period in American history,” said Lance Henry (2L). “I also liked his message of organizing to get things done.”
Samantha Morales (2L) said, "La Raza was happy to support this event because it's not every day that a civil rights leader and former Congressman shares his experiences with a forum of law students. Mayor Filner highlighted his belief that the people in leadership should reflect the communities they serve and I found it admirable to learn that his appointed staff is composed of 88 percent women and minorities."
“Listening to Mayor Filner's presentation on his experience as a Freedom Rider, sparked an intense amount of emotion inside of me,” said Noél Heard (3L). “It was amazing to hear his first-hand story of the types of horrific events they had to endure in those days. His courage, selflessness and conscious decision to take a stand against what he knew was wrong made me think about myself. What am I doing to change the wrongdoing in my community? Am I doing enough to help those less-fortunate than I, in my community? I don't think so. But after listening to his speech, I'm going to start! I'm in the process of a full self-review and will be meeting with him in the upcoming week to find out how exactly I can contribute to the betterment of my community. I'm truly inspired to do more!!!”
“Mayor Filner's experience as a Freedom Rider jailed for standing up for civil rights is an inspiration to all,” said TJSL Professor K.J. Greene. “His vision for including all San Diegans in governing choices is also a breath of fresh air. It shows that our diversity as a city is our greatest strength. TJSL was honored to host this civil rights champion.”
The event organizers are grateful to both El Indio and Lolita’s restaurants for donating their delicious food to the festivities.
The Mayor's appearance was part of a weeklong celebration of diversity at Thomas Jefferson School of Law.