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Freedom Riders

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Freedom Riders
John Smith
HIS/145
September 17, 2014

Freedom Riders
Journal entry December 12th 1961: It has been difficult living in the era that we do. Being an African American in Alabama is not the life I had envisioned for myself. The benefit of going to college, which is handed to white people, is often unobtainable for the black person. I have always known I was destined to do something more with my life. The Jim Crowe laws constantly remind me that I am not an equal to those around me. Last year 1960, the Supreme Court ruled that those very laws are illegal. Shortly after those rulings my sister took part in a sit-in at a drug store, which led to that store changing its policy. Later she met Ella Baker an SCLC activist and was invited to a conference at Shaw University in Raleigh in April 1960. That conference led to the creation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. That committee took nonviolent actions ever more forward by organizing freedom rides. This was a direct challenge of segregation on interstate busses as the Constitution protected interstate commerce.
Inspired by my sister’s actions I have made up my mind to join those people. To stand up and stand out in order to see that discrimination comes to an end. There are some 400 freedom riders putting the Supreme Court ruling to the test. We often go in inter-racial teams from somewhere North in to the Segregated South. Essentially backed by Boynton v. Virginia, (1960) ruling that segregation for passengers engaged in interstate travel was unconstitutional. We all knew what we were getting in to. However, we had no idea just how sideways things were going to go. From violence to being arrested it was apparent that anything was on the table. White vs. Black was the rule of the day and there are some minds that simply could not be changed.
Being a freedom rider is a journey in fear and constant wonder about what might come next. Not long ago a bus in carrying riders in Anniston was firebombed forcing all on board to flee for their lives. Another incident bought to light by an FBI informant indicated that the local public safety commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor gave the Ku Klux Klan fifteen minutes to attack a bus of freedom riders before calling law enforcement in to “protect” them. A very similar incident happened in Montgomery, where freedom riders following the trail that Rosa Parks had blazed got on an integrated Greyhound bus from Birmingham. This caused a massive 2 hour long riot in which 22 people were injured and five sent to the hospital, including white activists such as James Peck. Between the violence in Anniston and Birmingham the rides came to a temporary stop. I was relived that I had not yet encountered any of the issues my fellow riders had. However, that was to be short lived.
May 24th, 1961 I was on a freedom ride in to Jackson Mississippi. Upon arriving I used a “white only” bathroom and was promptly arrested. My charges were breaching of the peace and refusal to obey an officer. In light of our arrests the Governor Ross Barnett commented in defense of segregation “The negro is different because god made him different to punish him”. It is no wonder we were treated so harshly because we continued our stand “Jail no Bail”, refusing to pay fines for unconstitutional arrests. We were often beaten, jammed packed in to tiny, filthy cells. Some of us were forced to do hard labor in the scorching heat. While other freedom riders were manacled to the walls, or transported off to the State Penitentiary at Parchman.
Public sympathy for the jailed riders and the movement led John F. Kennedy’s administration to issue a new desegregation order. The new ICC rule became effective November 1, 1961 and changes soon followed. Under the new law passengers were permitted to sit wherever the chose on the bus. “White” and “Colored” signs came down in the bus terminals’ separate drinking fountains, toilets, and waiting rooms were consolidated; and lunch counters began serving people regardless of skin color.
Though my journey as a freedom rider is now at a close that does not mean I am no longer an activist. The signs may be down but racism is not dead and there are still people out there fighting for the cause. James Lawson the wizard of non violent theory and tactics; Diane Nash a pure champion of justice; Bob Moss the man about our right to vote and James Bevel the “Preacher”. Through those peoples eyes and own vision the dream of a free and equal America is very real.

References:
Andrews, K. T. (2007). Freedom riders: 1961 and the struggle for racial justice. The Journal of
American History, 94(1), 356-357. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/224880925?accountid=35812

Wilson, S., Avery, C., Ford, K., Hancock, M., Read, S., Stephens, E., & Young, T. A. (2007).
Freedom riders: John lewis and jim zwerg on the front lines of the civil rights movement. Language Arts, 85(2), 167-168. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/196931078?accountid=35812

Frystak, S. (2010). Freedom's main line: The journey of reconciliation and the freedom rides.
The Journal of Southern History, 76(3), 786-788. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/746109652?accountid=35812

Freedom Rides -Black History. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.history.com/topics/black- history/freedom-rides The Freedom Riders then and Now. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-freedom-riders-then-and-now-45351758/?no-ist Get On the Bus: The Freedom Riders of 1961. (2006). Retrieved from
http://www.npr.org/2006/01/12/5149667/get-on-the-bus-the-freedom-riders-of-1961

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