The Freedom Riders

By: Ashley James

 

Mother’s Day, May 14, 1961: A Greyhound bus carrying the Freedom Riders was met with a mob who slashed its tires and then bombed it. Credit: Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Mother’s Day, May 14, 1961: A Greyhound bus carrying the Freedom Riders was met with a mob who slashed its tires and then bombed it.
Credit: Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

The Freedom Riders came to existence due to the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) who planned a “Journey of Reconciliation” which expressed segregated seats of interstate passengers unconstitutional.  This plan quickly fell apart and was shut completely down.

After President John F. Kennedy was elected for office, CORE proposed a new Journey of Reconciliation called the “Freedom Ride.” The purpose was the same: a group of both blacks and whites would board buses preparing to travel to the South. This time, the whites would be seated in the back and the blacks in the front. They did everything opposite of what was the norm. The whites would go into the all black areas and vice versa.

The Freedom Ride left from Washington DC on May 4, 1961 and was supposed to arrive in New Orleans on May 17. On Mother’s Day, the Riders separated into two groups to travel through Alabama. The bus, which went through Anniston, was met by a mob and later firebombed. The second bus was also met by a mob in Birmingham and the riders were severely beaten.

Bull Connor, who was Birmingham’s Public Safety Commissioner, explained that there were no officers present because of the holiday. It was later discovered that the FBI knew what would happen that day and that the police stayed away on purpose. The governor John Patterson was unapologetic and dry saying,

“When you go somewhere looking for trouble, you usually find it . . . . You just can’t guarantee the safety of a fool and that’s what these folks are, just fools.”

The courageous citizens who participated in this revolutionary ride through history inspired civil rights acts all throughout the South. It not only called attention to the public on the complications of segregation on interstate buses, but to the problems segregation causes as a whole. This event touched the hardened hearts of some. Unfortunately, many cold hearts stayed the same or even became harder than stone. Although the Freedom Riders did not stop segregation as a whole, it made one large step into true freedom and the first ride into integration.

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