Juan Matute of LRY (Liberal Religious Youth) - California, Pacific Unitarian Church
I joined up with the movement with the fledgling LRY group back in the late 1950's. The Pacific Unitarian Church started back then by a bunch of folks who thought a church experience was essential, but nothing suited their tastes and social function. We started meeting at the Seventh Day Adventist church in Torrance - because their building was available on Sunday mornings. The Pacific Unitarians had programs for all kids, and the LRY was something that was imported for the young teens. We got together in Sundays and I remember we went to several services of other denominations for a diversity of religious experiences of other people. As I recall, we were just a bunch of young kids, most of whom had no church doctrine imbedded, and were contented to talk about stuff like figuring out what the sound was of one hand clapping, and other esoteric mumbo jumbo. It was in 1959 that an idea came about to send some people to am LRY International Convention in Canada. We raised a bunch of money by various means. I borrowed my folks station wagon and on residential trash pick up days, my brother and I trolled the streets for newspapers for many months, and made enough in recycling rebates to send me to the conference. In August of 1959, about 33 kids left the 1st Unitarian Church in downtown Los Angeles on a chartered Greyhound bus. Kids from the San Francisco Bay area were on board. We had an amazing time. Just imagine leaving home for the first time on a bus with 32 others, who were high school or early collage on an adventure of wild-eyed liberalism and early pre-hippy dispositions. We had an amazing time, and met kids our age at the YMCA camp at Lake Couchiching, just north of Toronto, Canada. Most of our experiences are long forgotten, but some stand out. I recently (just this last week), went to Ojai, California, to give a copy of our LRY group photo taken at the camp. There must be close to 150 to 200 kids in the picture. I can pass on to you one experience we had, and that was in our Greyhound journey, we stopped in Amarillo, Texas, and a bunch of us (about 10) went to a Woolworth lunch counter, near the bus terminal, to get a sandwich or a coke. In our group was a girl from Oakland, but the name of Reba. The color of her skin is Black. There was a bit of a kerfuffle when we were giving our orders, and we were told that we could not be served because of the color of Reba's skin. You can imagine what a bunch of California liberal kids on an LRY mentality though about this. We told them that we would all leave if Reba was not served. We stayed seated. The Amarillo cops came, and told us to get on the bus and never come back. The cops also wanted to arrest a Dutch student who was with us because he had a hunting knife (about 6") on his belt. We got on the bus after it had been serviced, and left town. I don't remember if we ever got served or not. It did not occur to me until many years later that we were actually on of the first sit-ins in the nasty 60's. The person who received the LRY photo (Michael Muller) was also remembering that incident in Amarillo, and wrote this poem:
Copyright 2010 Michael Muller
I was always sorry that we didn�t get arrested;
For years I felt guilty for arranging the
Compromise that allowed us to eat lunch together.
Liberal Religious Youth, on our way from L.A.
To a national convention in Toronto that summer,
Black and white kids, the only two colors those days.
I worked for months to earn the money, mowed
Sidewalks, swept lawns, sat on babies, gloating
Over the map of our long trip, the states to cross.
Our Greyhound charter bus full of song, dining
Roadside in the desert. Some bus drivers made sure
They drove for us on our return trip; now I realize
They were taking a stand of approval for more
Than just our spurt of joy and riot. All was
New for a fifteen year old. Big sisters
Advised about love, demonstrated hickeys on my arm,
Gave hope of entering a new country that
Had been closed to me. Crossing Arizona, New Mexico,
And now the panhandle. In
And off the bus, first foot on southern soil, I saw
Mounted on bus station wall, a neon sign, bright blue
Cursive writing, over a gleaming tailed and pointing
Arrow, "Colored Waiting Room." The wonder
Of that moment is still with me, fresh with its
Complacent institutionalized wrongness. (Later,
In Oklahoma, there was no sign, just a very small
Room full of black people who knew where to sit.)
One of my friends refused to leave the bus, indignant
At the insult, later became editor of a communist paper.
My friend Reba got thrown out of bathroom not all right
For her. In a black and white world color sure meant
A whole lot. So, teenagers, needing food and adventure,
We strolled into town and came to a lunch counter.
"We can�t serve you," said the waitress not much older
Than the eight or ten of us seated at her table. "Why not?"
She gestured waving her hands at our faces, "It�s just�"
I said, "We�re not leaving�..look, we�ll
And in her newness, probably not reporting to anyone, the
Day a slow one at her restaurant, she brought us our food.
Fifty years passed I see that there was peril, danger;
Police were waiting when we left the lunch counter,
Somehow they�d been notified of this unprecedented
Confluence of events, following us back to the bus station,
Seizing the Danish student�s knife strapped to his thigh,
Eyeing us, waiting, watching strangeness, ready to act.
A few months later students in Virginia and elsewhere were sitting in at lunch counters.
Beginning in May of 1961 Freedom Riders rode buses throughout the South challenging its segregated policies.
My friends and I never spoke much about Amarillo but we participated in the Los Angeles boycotts of Woolworth�s and other stores in support of the sit-ins happening in the South. I still remember how angry people were, yelling, tearing up our leaflets and spitting in our faces.
I went on to other things. As soon as I got off the returning Greyhound at the 1st Church, I had to get report to my new college in Claremont. Away from any LRY group, no car, and much to study, I lost connection to LRY. Every once in a while I checked into a Unitarian Church in some of the cities I visited along the way after graduation and work. Found out that the LRY, as we knew it to be, got kicked out because it failed to live within the constraints of imposed by the Beacon Street leaders.
Added 2014 Feb 2nd.