MAY 4: An American Day of Boldness and Activism – Part 3 Freedom Riders

On May 4, 1961, a group of 13 civil rights activists – that included black and white and Christians and Jews – launched the Freedom Rides from Washington, D.C.  Their mission

  • attempt to integrate interstate bus facilities in the deep South in light of the Supreme Court’s 1946 decision barring segregation in interstate busing in Morgan v. Virginia; and
  • get New Orleans by May 17 to celebrate the anniversary of the Brown v Board of Education decision prohibiting segregation in public education.

The group was met with violence:

  • in Rock Hill, South Carolina on May 12 where the African-American riders, which included future Congressman John Lewis, were beaten;
  • in Anniston, Alabama where the bus was fire bombed and riders beaten;and
  • in Birmingham where the riders were beaten by an angry mob.

They never made it to New Orleans but instead gained international attention which led to the Interstate Commerce Commission to issue regulations prohibiting segregation in bus and train stations at the urging of Attorney General Robert F Kennedy.

In 2014, many of the original Freedom Riders reunited to celebrate their 50th anniversary.


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