Riding for Freedom: 50 years later
Reunion in Mississippi
The Freedom Riders recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of their harrowing bus trips through the South, which began on May 4, 1961, in attempt to protest against the Jim Crow laws. They had been outlawed by a Supreme Court decision to prohibit segregation in all interstate travel and public transportation facilities months prior to the demonstrations.
The earliest Freedom Riders were made up largely of college students, but many riders from all over the United States were in their 40s and 50s. They rode buses through the South to test the United States Supreme Court decision, Boynton v. Virginia (of 1960), which outlawed racial segregation in the restaurants and waiting rooms in terminals serving buses that crossed state lines. The Riders stopped to eat along the way at segregated lunch tables and counters. They had been taught nonviolence by leaders, such as the Rev. James Lawson. More conservative civil rights organizations wanted coordinator Diane Nash and the students to stop the Freedom Rides, but they continued and more were instituted.
Angry mobs began attacking the first Freedom Riders in Rockville, S.C. On Mother’s Day, May 14, 1961, the Riders were severely attacked by a mob that threw a firebomb inside one of the buses. As the Riders fled the bus, they were beaten with baseball bats. President JFK called for the violence to end. More than 350 young people were arrested and jailed in Jackson, Miss. Those remaining were sent to Parchman Penitentiary, where they were segregated by race and gender.
On May 22, 2011, more than 100 Freedom Riders and their families traveled back to Jackson, Miss., to commemorate the Rides. They visited historically Black colleges, Parchman Penitentiary, the Fannie Lou Hamer memorial, various houses of worship, community-based organizations and civil rights legacy destinations. The reunion lasted from May 22 to May 26, 2011, starting and ending at the Marriott Hotel.
For more information about their reunion and to view the videos, go to www.ms50thfreedomridersreunion.org.
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