On May 4th, 1961, a group of thirteen civil rights activists from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) tried to test the importance of a recently passed Supreme Court decision. Boynton v. Virginia had set a precedent that it was unconstitutional to segregate interstate bus terminals, along with other transportation facilities. These activists, seven African-American and six Caucasian, traveled the East Coast and the southern United States in order to test local governments on how well they respected the rule of law by attempting to use “Whites-Only” restrooms, lunch spots, and waiting spaces. Their journey was one of bravery and justice but was met with much hate and violence. In the end, however, many see this as one of the great civil rights undertakings in American history. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we look back on how some brave Americans used the bus industry as a way to stand up for what was right.
The activists started in Washington, DC, and traveled down through Virginia and North Carolina, hitting Richmond and Greensboro without much issue. Their first run-in with the law occurred in Charlotte, NC, where Joseph Perkins was arrested for sitting at a shoeshine stand that was for whites-only. This would be nothing compared to their next stop, however. On the very same day, John Lewis (who is now the Democratic Congressional representative of the 5th District of Georgia) and two other Freedom Riders were attacked as they attempted to enter a whites-only waiting room. They would continue on, but it wouldn’t be the first instance of violence they faced.
The Freedom Riders made their way into Atlanta on May 12th. Prior to arriving, Dr. King warned the brave Riders that they would be facing a major threat of violence as they went into the city, but they continued on. They faced bomb threats and mobs in Atlanta but were safe otherwise. However, once they reached Anniston, AL, the threat of death loomed. The first of the Freedom Riders’ buses were burned by an angry mob, mostly made up of Ku Klux Klan members, when its tires blew out. As they escaped, the mob beat them. The second bus arrived in Birmingham, AL, where another mob made up of Klansmen met them with violence as well. The Riders had to flee. Bull Connor, the police commissioner of Birmingham, hadn’t posted police to the bus station because, in his words, it was Mother’s Day.
The Riders journeyed on to Montgomery, AL. What was frequently seen as one of the hotbeds of racism in the South, the Riders knew that they were in for their greatest test. Their police escort abandoned them in the city, leaving them at the mercy of the crowd. The Riders were able to take refuge at the First Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. was leading a service as a call-to-action for racial equality. This infuriated the populace, as a mob rallied outside of the church. King had to call then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy to bring in federal marshals to reestablish the peace.
Finally, the Riders left Alabama and made way for Jackson. MS. Here, several hundred supporters greeted the group and it seemed that their struggles may have been at an end. However, those who attempted to use the whites-only restrooms at this stop were arrested and sent to Parchman State Penitentiary, a maximum-security location. During their hearing, the sitting judge turned to the wall rather than listen to the Riders’ defenses. They were sentenced to thirty days in jail.
At the time, some were worried that this meant that racism won; that the South was doomed to be divided on the color of one’s skin. However, more and more Riders joined the effort. They too were jailed, but it did not dissuade these new Riders. In the fall of 1961, the Interstate Commerce Commission, after intense pressure from President Kennedy, issued regulations officially prohibiting segregation in these travel stations. The Riders were finally successful.
iLIKEBUS honors the sacrifices of these brave people. They chose to use the bus industry due to its wide appeal and diverse audience, knowing that they wanted to turn it into a symbol of the inclusiveness that this country should have. iLIKEBUS will always do its best to live up to that example and be a bus ticketing company for the people of America. Your service is always our first priority and we hope to continue to be an example in the bus ticketing industry.
If you are interested in the Freedom Riders and want to learn more about the individual Riders, please visit http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/meet-players-freedom-riders/.
About the author:
Carter Nordike is the Social Media Specialist at iLIKEBUS. Carter graduated with his B.A. in English from the University of Mary Washington. He enjoys the colder seasons but is getting pretty fed up with weather right now due to a lack of snow, and is wishing for sunnier days. If you have any questions or concerns about a blog post, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.