JFK+50: Volume 5, No. 1939FIRST FREEDOM RIDERS LEAVE D.C.
Washington, D.C.(JFK+50) Fifty-five years ago today, May 4, 1961, a bus load of Freedom Riders* left the Nation's Capital headed to the Deep South to challenge racial segregation on interstate buses and in bus terminals.
The first Freedom Ride was sponsored by the Congress Of Racial Equality (CORE) and led by its' national director James Farmer**. The idea for the rides was inspired by the Journey of Reconciliation of 1947 led by Bayard Rustin and George House testing a Supreme Court ruling banning racial discrimination in travel.
The Kennedy administration condemned the Freedom Rides as unpatriotic and an embarrassment to the United States during the Cold War. President Kennedy called for a "cooling-off period" to which James Farmer responded...
"We have been cooling off for 350 years, and if we cooled off any more, we'd be in a deep freeze."
CORE called on the Freedom Rides to continue throughout the summer. By the time they were done, 436 black and white civil rights activists participated in the rides, three-fourths were male. They put themselves at risk not only for arrest by police but also for physical attacks by angry whites.
The plan for the Greyhound and Trailways buses that left Washington, D.C. on May 4, 1961 was to travel through Virginia, North & South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana. The first buses encountered no major problems until they reached Rock Hill, South Carolina. It was there that activist John Lewis*** was attacked.
The Freedom Rides were also sponsored by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
*Freedom Riders were young people who challenged racial laws in the American South during the early 1960s, originally by refusing to abide by laws directing segregated seating by race on public buses.
**James Leonard Farmer, Jr. (1920-1999) is considered one of the Top Four leaders of the Civil Rights movement. He was born in Marshall, TX & received his B.S. at Wiley College & his Divinity degree from Howard School of Religion.
***John Lewis was born to a family of sharecroppers in Troy, Alabama in 1940. He graduated from Alabama Baptist Theological Seminary and Fisk University. JL was chairman of SNCC during the civil rights era and one of the original 13 Freedom Riders.
"Freedom Rides," www.history.com/