Freedom riders

August 14, 2014

Our American history is full of men and women of all races who have played a significant role in shaping what it means to be a true American and for civil rights. Some of them became quite noticeable for their efforts, while others worked in the background and became great supporters of the movements. At the time, what they did or the service provided was not history, but nevertheless became history simply because they believed in their dreams and ideas. It was because of their passion to do something; to speak out at rallies, to walk over bridges, ride a train, take a seat on a bus, sit down at a restaurant counter, or even ride buses on interstates hundreds of miles to challenge the non-enforcement of federal laws which ruled that segregated public buses were unconstitutional, especially in the south. These events were truly remarkable to just make something happen, regardless of the consequences.
This past week many in our nation paid tribute to the hundreds of men and women who boarded buses and attempted to travel across the segregated south to bring attention to the need for the federal government to enforce the laws that outlawed racial segregation in restaurants and waiting rooms in interstate bus terminals. Of course those laws were being ignored by southern states and the Interstate Commerce Commission failed to enforce the rulings and yet Jim Crow travel laws remained in force throughout the South.
On May 4, 1961, the first Freedom Ride left Washington, D.C., and was scheduled to arrive in New Orleans on May 17. This first ride included 13 people, seven black and six whites. Their route included rides through Virginia, North/South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi and ended in New Orleans. They experienced some trouble in Virginia, but things became more challenging in the Carolinas, where some were arrested. The most difficult period occurred in Birmingham, AL when the riders were attacked by white mobs and the KKK, all the while the local police stood by. As a result, several of the riders had to be hospitalized and thus ended the bus ride and they flew directly to New Orleans from Birmingham.
What happened in Birmingham did not stop the Freedom Riders, for soon after more rides were organized, and with national and world wide attention, more new riders came and this time they were from nearly every state in the country. The new riders met with more trouble, attacks, imprisonment, a bus burning, confrontations, especially in Alabama and Mississippi. But in the end nothing stopped the beauty of the idea, shared commitment and the dedication of those who were willing to pay a price to change a nation to honor its laws and to hear its people. What do you think?