Freedom Rides

Posted in Uncategorized by lmass on 04/10/2012

By 1954, segregation on inter-state rails and buses was declared unconstituional by the supreme court, however this did little to effect the practices on public transportation in the deep south, where whites still sat in the front with blacks at the back, giving up their seats for white people should the carraige/bus be full. Those who disobeyed state segregation laws were arrested and fined. On 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested after refusing to give up her seat to a white man. Protests organised by Martin Luther King followed in Montgomery, with a boycott of buses by black people. For 13 months, 17,000 individuals walked or got lifts to work. The eventual loss of revenue and the decisions of the supreme court forced the Montgomery bus companies to accept integration.

In 1961 a group of students challenged the status quo of the deep south and tested local laws and customs maintaining the separation and persecution of blacks. Mixed groups of blacks and whites rode on public transport, using facilities that had recently been de-segregated along the way.  They were trained in non-violent techniques, and travelled through the Deep South in mixed groups.

The violent reactions that many of the Freedom Riders met in the south bolstered the credibility of the American Civil Rights Movement, calling attention to the brutal disregard for federal law that had riders arrested, beaten and abused by police offices for violating state and jim crow laws. White mobs were free to attack without intervention, with police in some states cooperating with the Ku Klux Klan, who had hoped that their violent techniques would deter people from taking part in the freedom rides. Over 1000 people ended up going on freedom rides, and with local authorities refusing to provide protection, 500 federal marshals were sent by President John F Kennedy to keep them safe.

James Peck after being beaten in Birmingham

The rides were organised by the Congress of Racial Equality [CORE], as well as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee [SNCC] . As well as riding on buses, sit-ins were also held against segregated lunch counters, as well as boycotts of retail establishments that maintained segregation.

The bus which was burnt by the KKK – freedom riders only escaped when the mob who was blocking the door ran for cover for fear of explosions

Many of the riders were imprisoned in Missippi state penitentiary, where their mattresses, sheets, toothbrushes and even running water were taken away following their refusal to stop singing.

In September 1961 the Interstate Commerce Commision drafted regulations to end racial segregation in bus terminals, but what was probably more valuable was the publicity which was aroused surrounding the events of the freedom riders, and the attention and sympathy this won for the American Civil Rights movement as a whole.