I still find it amazing that President Obama was elected when it was only 50 years today that the US saw the first Freedom Rides. A mixed group of African-Africans and whites travelled from Washington DC in two buses to New Orleans to challenge segregation on interstate travel:
As the SNCC documents :
The group made it through Virginia and North Carolina without incident.
At the Greyhound bus station in Rock Hill, South Carolina, the group encountered violence. A mob of twenty attacked the group, and John Lewis was the first to be hit as he approached the white waiting room. Police eventually interfered and the group was allowed access to the white waiting room. The journey continued to Georgia. After leaving Atlanta, the Greyhound bus was stopped as it entered Alabama. A mob surrounded the bus, the tires were slashed, and the bus was set on fire. The bus was burned to the ground, but the group took another bus and continued the rides.
– to commemorate the anniversary NPR is replaying interviews with civil rights activist James Farmer Jr, one of the organisers of the 1961 Freedom Ride;
– and they also have an extract from historian Raymond Arsenault’s book Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice:
They were all lucky to be alive. Several members of the mob had pressed against the door screaming, “Burn them alive” and “Fry the goddamn niggers,” and the Freedom Riders had been all but doomed until an exploding fuel tank convinced the mob that the whole bus was about to explode. As the frightened whites retreated, Cowling pried open the door, allowing the rest of the choking passengers to escape. When Hank Thomas, the first Rider to exit the front of the bus, crawled away from the doorway, a white man rushed toward him and asked, “Are you all okay?” Before Thomas could answer, the man’s concerned look turned into a sneer as he struck the astonished student in the head with a baseball bat. Thomas fell to the ground and was barely conscious as the rest of the exiting Riders spilled out onto the grass.
Thank to you all the Freedom Riders for helping create such a different world.