The relatively new Pablo Center at the Confluence is a world-class entertainment venue, but its role as an educational resource was on full display earlier this week.

Earnest “Rip” Patton visited Eau Claire on Monday evening to present in Pablo’s Jamf Theatre. The free event drew hundreds despite gloomy weather conditions.

Patton detailed his background as a civil rights activist and, more specifically, his involvement with the Freedom Riders in 1961. The Congress of Racial Equality-sponsored movement coordinated teams of black and white people that traveled on regularly scheduled buses from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans.

Participants sat together in buses, waiting rooms and restaurants. The goal of the nonviolent effort was to influence policies regarding segregated transportation seating and facilities.

On Monday, Patton told horrific stories of Ku Klux Klan confrontations, corrupt police officers and unwarranted beatings. But throughout the discussion he emphasized tolerance and a love for others regardless of race and beliefs. Patton and others had learned in Nashville, Tenn., of the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, an Indian activist who championed nonviolent civil disobedience. They fine-tuned those skills during sit-ins at businesses in Nashville.

• • •

Aside from the lecture circuit and other interests, Patton is a drummer who continues to perform. Music played a key role in the civil rights movement, he said Monday, because one person may not be heard but it’s hard to ignore a song’s message when it’s comprised of many voices.

Patton referred to Grammy-winning bluesman Keb’ Mo’ as his “brother.” According to a USA Today story, Mo’ was Patton’s neighbor when the former was growing up in Compton, Calif. “I knew him as a jazz drummer,” Mo’ said in the piece, “and I was a kid with a new guitar from Sears.” The two would later reconnect in Patton’s hometown of Nashville.

• • •

After his presentation Monday, Patton generously answered several questions from members of the audience. One asked if discrimination could have been ended earlier.

“It’s not over,” Patton deadpanned.

He added that a movement can’t begin with cellphones and computers. Face-to-face interaction is key, Patton said. Once a cause is established, such technologies can help widen the reach and impact.

“Find one person you trust” to get it started, he said.

The charismatic Patton told decades-old stories with extreme attention to detail. Some of his shorter, simpler comments, however, may have had the greatest impact on audience members.

Patton was asked how to deal with a society today in which division is so entrenched.

“Love your neighbor,” he said.

Seems like good advice.

Liam Marlaire, assistant editor