The First Freedom Riders
In November of 1960 John F. Kennedy was elected president of the USA. Many African Americans were excited by Kennedy’s election for he had stated he was a supporter of Civil Rights. Unfortunately for the African Americans, Kennedy did nothing for the Civil Rights movement, and the African Americans decided to take matters into their own hands. In 1961, African Americans and whites that supported the civil rights cause took a “Freedom Ride” on segregated buses from Washington DC to the still very racist Deep South (New Orleans). The freedom rides consisted of the whites sitting in the “black only” section of the bus while the blacks sat in the “white only” section. The riders also used different toilets at rest stops. The Freedom Riders knew that this trip might put them in danger, but they were allowed to do so because of the Supreme Court decision, Boynton vs. Virginia.
Boynton vs. Virginia stated that the Interstate Commerce Act ruled that integration of passengers on the interstate was very much legal, so the Freedom Riders were not breaking any laws. The Freedom Riders knew about the aggression the South has put on many southerners, so they were prepared for the heavy violence to come. In Alabama, the Freedom Riders had split up into two groups. Both groups were attacked in different ways; the first bus that arrived was in for a surprise. A group of 200 southerners swarmed the bus and hit the vehicle with stones, and even slashing the tires. The bus quickly got away as fast as it could, but needed to stop to change the slashed tires. The bus stopped, and was attacked again, but was firebombed. All of the Freedom Riders aboard escaped the fire and escaped. The second group wasn’t as lucky and had larger injuries than the first group. The second group also was met with an angry southern mob, in which actually boarded the bus. The southerners made the blacks sit in there designated areas, and beat them with anything they could find such as sticks, pipes, and their own hands. Police were called to stop the violence, but they were too late. Many of the Freedom Riders were already badly beaten and the police had been extremely slow to stop the violence. It turns out; the police station was only two blocks away to the scene.
This incident brought major attention the country on Civil Rights, many did not know how violent the South actually was, and did not know the police could care less about protecting them as well. People rallied for Civil Rights and urged President Kennedy to take notice as well. The Freedom Riders protested peacefully, and more people started making their own Freedom Rides as well. Civil Rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. was a supporter of the Freedom Rides as well. Without the Freedom Rides, many would not have known about how harsh the South really did treat the African American people and the nation needed to do something to stop the violence.
Oracle. (2001, 10 3). Retrieved from http://library.thinkquest.org/J0112391/freedom_rides.htm
(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.core-online.org/historyphotos/burning_bus.gif