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Freedom Riders’ sacrifice and courage
By Naomi Lede
November 01, 2009 06:44 pm
— As the decade, 1950-60, ended, there emerged a new “army of the discontented.”
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), created to perpetuate the move to change a social order, provided the impetus to nonviolent tactics used by college students, young and old people from diverse backgrounds.
An aggressive project which came to be known as “The Freedom Rides” emerged in 1961 when James Farmer, director of the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), announced that the organization would conduct freedom rides through the South. Farmer, a brilliant scholar, was featured in the movie, “The Great Debaters.”
He graduated from
If you look back at the Civil Rights Movement, many personalities dominated the period of nonviolent resistance.
Leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson, Ralph Abernathy, the Little Rock Nine and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and Roy Wilkins – to mention a few – are frequently mentioned as warriors in the struggle for civil rights. It should be noted that the Freedom Riders provided impetus to a movement designed to change the status quo in race relations. The Freedom Riders were at risk when they banded together to challenge segregation in early May 1961.
Yet, they are not prominently mentioned among those who made a significant impact upon the American conscience.
Writing in the Smithsonian Magazine, (February 2009), Marian Smith Holmes describes a scene that took place on Sunday, May 14, 1961 – Mother’s Day.
Scores of angry whites blocked a Greyhound bus carrying black and white passengers through rural
As I viewed the film depicting mobs attacking the Freedom Riders, I wondered what happened to these brave citizens. Where are they now, nearly 50 years later?
At best they are middle-aged citizens. My curiosity prompted me to search for answers. Eric Etheridge, an accomplished magazine editor, provides an in-depth glimpse into the lives of those “road warriors” in his book, “Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961
The Freedom Riders were brave men and women of various creeds, colors, and religions. They were college students from various parts of
The legal action movement, though successful in part, did not induce the kind of changes for which many aspired. But they never faltered and never failed. What happened to the Freedom Riders of 1961? A few examples follow.
Frank Holloway, 68, worked as a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in
Since 1999 McCray has taught at
Winonah spent most of her career working with disdabled adolescents and adults in
John Lewis, then 21, was the first freedom rider to be assaulted while trying to enter a white waiting room in Rock Hill, SC. Lewis, U.S. congressman from Georgia, stated: “We knew our lives could be threatened but we had made up our minds not to turn back.”
Another Freedom Rider, Ed Kale, graduated from
Since 2004, he lived in
He was inducted into the Army in 1963 and chose to serve as a medic. After
Perhaps the most inspiring consideration in all this was the dedication exemplified by young people who believed in the greatness of
To paraphrase the great theologian Howard Thurman, there was a spirit abroad in the lives of the Freedom Riders who joined arms together to bring comfort to the desolate and forgotten.
As a breach of the peace,” they sought to ensure justice where injustice existed; to make peace where chaos was rampant, and to make their voices heard on behalf of the helpless and the weak. They succeeded!
Naomi W. Ledé is a retired Senior Research Scientist, Distinguished Professor, and University Administrator. She serves as Chair, Board of the
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs