Two of the activists who fought for racial equality and desegregation recalled their experiences as the University of Mary Washington kicked off a 3-month event yesterday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides.
"We practiced the nonviolent philosophy going back to Ghandi, that if one person fell, the next person stepped up and took their place," Joan Mulholland recalled. "We were part of the Southern Student Movement."
The first Freedom Ride took place on May 4, 1961 when seven blacks and six whites left Washington, D.C., on two public buses bound for the Deep South. They intended to test the Supreme Court's ruling in Boynton v. Virginia (1960), which declared segregation in interstate bus and rail stations unconstitutional. CORE-Online reports,
In the first few days, the riders encountered only minor hostility, but in the second week the riders were severely beaten. Outside Anniston, Alabama, one of their buses was burned, and in Birmingham several dozen whites attacked the riders only two blocks from the sheriff's office. With the intervention of the U.S. Justice Department, most of CORE's Freedom Riders were evacuated from Birmingham, Alabama to New Orleans. John Lewis, a former seminary student who would later lead SNCC and become a US congressman, stayed in Birmingham.
At the University's celebration, Reginald Green recalled the fear that the Freedom Riders had, talking about news reports he heard over a transistor radio just out of Jackson.
Dr. James Farmer, one of the riders, was honored. The popular professor taught at the college in his last years. Farmer, six other black people and six white people participated in the first Freedom Ride.
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