Queens College Student Jay Kestenbaum Writes a Letter to Andrew Goodman
In January 2015, Queens College student Jay Kestenbaum participated in a school trip to Alabama and Georgia to learn about the Civil Rights Movement. Moved by his experience and the story of Andrew Goodman, who risked his life for the freedom of others, Jay wrote this reflection, entitled “Dear Andy.” Jay read the letter at the Queens College Commencement Ceremony where Andrew Goodman, was recognized with an honorary doctorate degree.
My name is Jay Kestenbaum and I’ve just gotten back from Atlanta. I was on a trip called “In the Footsteps of Dr. King.” While I followed in his footsteps, I saw you there. It was you, Andy.
Andy, it was you, the young Jewish and politically conscious college student. Andy, it was you who went down to Mississippi during Freedom Summer in 1964 to register the 93% of disenfranchised Mississippian blacks, American blacks. Americans.
And Andy, it was you that was murdered down in Mississippi that dark June night. Andy, I didn’t act with you, but I saw it happen.
Dear Andy, I glimpsed the same southern starry night sky you and Dr. King once peeked at with eyes on tomorrow. I looked out that bus’s window and noticed you Andy, sweat down your face during a hot Mississippi summer day. It was you knocking on the door of those Americans.
Later that day, I witnessed your murder. I saw your torched car. I saw the sweltering heat of injustice upon the red hills that we drove by. What struck me wasn’t a cold bullet in my forehead, but your dark hair and brown eyes. Your sweat. Your commitment.
Andy, I didn’t die with you, but I saw it happen.
Dear Andy, you deserved a life, not a medal. You deserved to go home, go back to school and live. Yet, you answered a call beyond yourself. Your message is clear and powerful. Some things are worth the risk. Some prices are worth paying the ultimate cost.
Benjamin Franklin said that a man who gives up his essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserves neither liberty nor safety. Andy, you have challenged us to greater. A man who gives up his or his fellow brother’s essential liberty deserves neither liberty nor safety.
Andy, that day I saw your murder I saw something else. Dear Andy, that day I saw your murder, I saw you. I saw your body and I saw you rise like a phoenix from the ashes of your car. That day I saw your murder, I realized that you—your ideals and you—had entered the collective unconscious.
Andy, your friend and classmate Paul Simon wrote that you are his brother. Today, I can tell you more. Today, I can tell you and all here that your ideals are my brothers and my sisters, my mothers and my fathers. They are my families, my friends, my fellow students. They are our communities, our governments, and our countries.
Andy, though we didn’t act with you and that we didn’t die with you, I say today, what can we do?