Original Freedom Riders Disband

The remainder of the Freedom Riders were injured and battered, and CORE and felt that they could not continue the Freedom Ride, and elected to fly them to New Orleans where they disbanded (ironically on the 7th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education). At this point, SNCC felt more than ever that the Freedom Rides should continue. Again, Diane Nash of SNCC played a major role in salvaging the Freedom rides when she sent out call to campuses around the eastern United States for volunteers to come to join the Freedom Ride to keep the demonstration going.

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Violence in Montgomery, Alabama

On May 21, 1961, the surviving contingent of Riders took a bus from Birmingham to Montgomery, Alabama, protected by a contingent of the Alabama State Highway Patrol.  However, when they reached the Montgomery city limits, the Highway Patrol abandoned them.  At the bus station, a large white mob was waiting with baseball bats and iron pipes. The local police allowed them to viciously beat the Freedom Riders uninterrupted. Again, white Freedom Riders, branded “Nigger-Lovers,” were singled out for particularly brutal beatings.  There is a famous picture of Jim Zwerg with blood running all down his suit. Justice Department official Seigenthaler was beaten and left unconscious lying in the street. Ambulances, manned by white attendants refused to take the wounded to the hospital. Brave local blacks finally rescued them. A number of the Freedom Riders were hospitalized.

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Introduction to Segregation in the South, 1961

Racial segregation was the rule throughout all of the southern and in areas of the northern United States  until the 1960s.  Public facilities were claimed to be “separate but equal” by proponents of segregation.   Those who violated these social mores were subject to abuse ranging from beatings to bombings to lynchings.  (The lynching shown occurred in Marion, Indiana in 1930)1.  In 1961, the Civil Rights Movement to end racial segregation was still in its infancy, with only a few victories realized (notably integration of Woolworth’s lunch counters and, shown at the left, integration of the city buses in Montgomery, Alabama2 ). The federal government had passed an Interstate Commerce Commission law stating that it was illegal to segregate public interstate facilities. However, this federal law was officially ignored throughout the South with separate white and “colored” facilities enforced at bus and train stations 3 . As a rule throughout the South, police not only turned a blind eye to violence against movement people, but were often active participants in the beatings.  Pleas to President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, to enforce the federal law were ignored, and the U.S. Justice Department turned a blind eye to these violations, despite pleas to them to enforce the laws prohibiting segregation of interstate facilities.

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Traveling Through Alabama and Mississippi

After boarding the bus for Jackson, the bus pulled out into the massive police presence which was cordoning off the bus station. Leaving Montgomery, we traveled through rural Alabama with a State Highway patrol escort in front and behind. At each station we came to during the entire six hour trip to Jackson Mississippi, the police prevented us from disembarking and only persons with tickets were allowed off. Luckily, we had a rest room on the bus. When we crossed the state line from Alabama into Mississippi, the Mississippi State Police took up the guard patrol. Apparently, the news had spread through Mississippi as we began to see crowds of hostile whites at the stations we passed. As we approached the Jackson Trailways Bus Station, there was a large hostile crowd of whites cordoned away from the station itself, and a large show of police surrounded the bus as it stopped. Disembarking from the bus, we passed through a double column of police to get to the waiting rooms, the black Freedom Riders entered the “Whites Only” waiting room, and the two of us who were white (Dave Myers and myself) entered the “Colored” waiting room. Not surprisingly, the “Colored” waiting room was small, dingy, with wooden benches, very primitive compared with the spacious, well appointed white waiting room with cushioned seats.   So much for “separate but equal…”28_slide0025_image055 29_slide0036_image057 30_slide0014_image059