In 1961 the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) undertook a tactic aimed at desegregating public transportation throughout the south. These tactics became know as the “Freedom Rides”.
The first Freedom Ride took place on May 4, 1961 when seven blacks and six whites left Washington, D.C., on two public buses bound for the Deep South. They intended to test the Supreme Court’s ruling in Boynton v. Virginia (1960), which declared segregation in interstate bus and rail stations unconstitutional.
In the first few days, the riders encountered only minor hostility, but in the second week the riders were severely beaten. Outside Anniston, Alabama, one of their buses was burned, and in Birmingham several dozen whites attacked the riders only two blocks from the sheriff’s office. With the intervention of the U.S. Justice Department, most of CORE’s Freedom Riders were evacuated from Birmingham, Alabama to New Orleans.
This was in the spring of 1961. Blacks were beaten by white mobs because they dared ride on a bus, go into “whites only” toilets, sit at the counter of diners next to whites. The police looked on while the beatings happened. No white thug was ever charged for any crime.
John Lewis was there with the Freedom Riders to witness it first hand. He went on to become a U.S. congressman on January 3, 1987 and still serves today.
Three months later, in Hawaii, a baby boy was born to a young white mother, a college student and a black father, a student visiting from Kenya. That little boy would grow up and eventually win the White House in 2008.
One thought on “The Freedom Riders in 1961”
I got to witness what I think was the very first sit-in in the U.S. It was the summer of 1958 at the Katz Drug lunch counter in Oklahoma City. My grandmother was working downtown and I was visiting her. Although I was only a toddler (ok, maybe a teenager), I remember it quite well. Mostly I remember that a lot of people were angry, but that’s the kind of thing that makes a lasting impression on a kid. From what I’ve read later, it was a remarkably peaceful event. And it was successful. Within a very short time, Katz had integrated all their lunch counters nationwide.