Freedom Riders

Freedom RidesIn May 1961, a group of Black and white men and women left Washington, DC on two public buses. The group was traveling to states in the south to test the United States Supreme Court decision that “segregation in interstate bus and rail stations was unconstitutional.”

The bus trip was organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). The trip was the beginning of what became known as the Freedom Rides.

During the trip, white people in the group sat in the back of the buses. Black people in the group sat in the front. At rest stops the white riders went into the “Black-only” areas and Black riders went into the “white-only” areas.

While traveling through the northern part of the south the Freedom Riders did not have any problems. However, things changed when they reached what is considered the deep south.

In Anniston, Alabama one of the buses was met by a mob of angry white people. The mob threw rocks at the bus and slashed the tires. The driver was able to drive away but when he stopped to change tires the bus was firebombed.

Riders on the second bus were approached by an angry crowd of white people in Birmingham, Alabama. Many of the Freedom Riders were beaten and some pretty badly.

Even though there was violence the Freedom Riders got a lot of support. Others joined the group and the Freedom Rides continued through the summer. More than 300 Riders were arrested and spent much of the summer in jails in the south.

The Freedom Riders never made it to New Orleans, which was their original goal. In the end that didn’t matter because the Rides became known and talked about around the country. They even got the attention of the White House and President Kennedy. Because of all the attention, the Freedom Riders could not be ignored. They forced President Kennedy to deal what what the Riders were trying to accomplish and talk about civil rights in the country.

The Freedom Rides also led to a an important ruling by the Interstate Commerce Commission. The commission made segregation in interstate bus travel illegal. The ruling was a win for the Freedom Riders and Black Americans.

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin Civil Rights ActivistOrganizing and managing logistics for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was a massive undertaking.

While most people are familiar with the March and Dr. King’s famous speech, little is known about the man behind the scene, the man responsible for coordinating the March and ensuring that all the parts came together for a successful, meaningful and impactful event.

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin (l)

That person was Bayard Rustin, who has been described by one historian as the “lost prophet” of the civil rights movement.

Rustin was a civil rights activist and he was gay. He worked mostly behind the scene to keep his sexual orientation from becoming an issue with critics.

He was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania on March 17, 1912 and was raised by grandparents who were pacifists. He attended historically black Wilberforce University in Ohio, and Cheney University in Pennsylvania before moving to New York City in 1937 and enrolling in City College of New York. Rustin had a great singing voice, and while in school, supported himself singing with African American folk artists in clubs in the city.

Journey of Reconciliation

Bayard Rustin (Back-Center)

In 1941 he joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), a pacifist organization formed by a group of Christians who were against using violence to solve international problems. Being a pacifist, Rustin was against war and in 1942 was jailed for refusing to serve in the military. He spent three years in Lewisburg Penitentiary as a conscientious objector.

When released from prison he became active with FOR again and in 1947 led a group of blacks and whites on what was called the ‘Journey of Reconciliation’ to challenge racial segregation on inter-state buses. This journey was really the first Freedom Ride.

Rustin was an advisor to Dr. King and helped organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and when A. Philip Randolph needed someone to organize the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom he thought of the one person who had the skills and ability to bring it all together, Bayard Rustin.

Rustin was a brilliant tactician, strategist and expert organizer.

He died in 1987 and in 2013 was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom.

Ella Baker

Ella Baker

Who Was Ella Baker?

Ella Baker, although less known than others, was an important civil rights leader during the 1950s and 60s.

Ella was born in Norfolk, Virginia on December 13, 1903. Her grandmother was once held in slavery. When Ella was growing up, her grandmother often talked to her about slavery and how cruel it was. She told Ella she was beaten because she refused to marry a man her enslaver had chosen for her. The things
her grandmother talked about inspired Ella to get involved in the Civil Rights Movement.

Involvement In Civil Rights Movement
Ella attended Shaw University. Shaw is an historically Black college in Raleigh, North Carolina. Ella graduated from Shaw in 1927. She was class valedictorian. After graduating Ella moved to New York City. She joined an organization called the Young Negroes Cooperative. It was an organization formed to create power in the Black community by sharing ideas and planning strategy together.

In 1940 Ella joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She helped them grow their membership and open local offices in the south.

When Dr. King became president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) Ella joined them and helped Black Americans register to vote.

When students in Greensboro, North Carolina began sit-ins at lunch counters to protest segregation in eating establishments, Ella returned to North Carolina to assist in that movement. She organized a meeting at Shaw University and invited student sit-in leaders to attend. Students at the meeting worked well together. They shared ideas and strategies and formed a new civil rights organization called the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). It was a youth organization and Ella helped them get started.

Ella was  active in civil rights her entire life. She quietly worked in the background for SNCC and other important organizations. She died in New York on her birthday on December 13, 1986.