On Mothers Day 2011, chartered buses from several cities in between Washington, DC and New Orleans to retrace a momentous journey that started more than a half century ago. The buses were filled with people of the hues of the rainbow of humanity, African American, Caucasian, Asian, Native American, Latino, Middle Eastern, African and others. College students from dozens of universities and colleges packed their suitcases and their desire to understand history and find for themselves how they might change its future.
Other passengers on the bus wore salt and pepper hair, had difficulty walking and lines from mother time outlined their faces. They would amid the young college students. Many of the seasoned riders had boarded similar buses fifty years ago and they were excited to see a new generation taking up the task of holding lady equality to the task. They were excited to see them walking in their footsteps and sitting in their seats. In this year they would make history again, teaching with each mile, sharing a common bond, and reliving their journey as “freedom riders”.
As they travel the interstate and back roads from the East and North to the south together, the young will hear the stories of brave men and women. Young college students who nearly a century ago, wrote and signed their last wills and testaments, said goodbye to their loved ones and boarded buses to segregate the racist southern states of our country. They will hear the horrific details of how hate manifests in violence without regard for human pain and suffering but to inflict in with unimaginable detachment. . They will see the places where harassment, intimidation and the threat of death was faced with fearless bravery and a commitment to nonviolence. They will see the pictures of battered, bludgeoned faces, broken limbs and the ugliness of ignorance and greed.
The Freedom Riders began their journey in May 1961. They were not seeking fortune or fame only dignity for African Americans; The dignity to relieve themselves in the restrooms of bus stations and the dignity to order and eat a meal in a restaurant. These were places and facilities denied to African Americans in the south. They were welcome and expected to clean and cook in these facilities but not to relieve themselves or eat in them.
The symbolic date of the departure of this reminiscent ride is that on Mother’s Day, May 14, 9161 in Anniston, Alabama one of the most violent experiences of the rider’s journey occurred. It was on that a mob of angry whites gathered and stopped the “freedom bus” attacked it and attempted to kill its passengers with a firebomb. They survived only by running off the bus and into beatings by pipes and sticks. That attack was only one of many that the freedom riders encountered on their journey. In spite of the hate and beatings they continued their journey and showed the world how Negroes were being treated in the southern states of the United States of America. The original freedom riders movement was organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and James Farmer this year’s event was organized in part by the American Experience, A PBS Documentary.
It is heart warming and encouraging seeing a new generation of young people interested and participating in the journey for equality. I hope that the lessons the young students learn from the seasoned ones further inspire them. I believe that it will give them an appreciation of the bravery, sacrifice and importance of the civil rights pioneers.
Follow the journal entries of the 2011 journey by visiting: