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Follow the Freedom Riders’ Journey Against Segregation During the Civil Rights Era

Follow the Freedom Riders’ Journey Against Segregation During the Civil Rights Era


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The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship The Civil Rights Era

The post-war era marked a period of unprecedented energy against the second class citizenship accorded to African Americans in many parts of the nation. Resistance to racial segregation and discrimination with strategies such as civil disobedience, nonviolent resistance, marches, protests, boycotts, &ldquofreedom rides,&rdquo and rallies received national attention as newspaper, radio, and television reporters and cameramen documented the struggle to end racial inequality. There were also continuing efforts to legally challenge segregation through the courts.

Success crowned these efforts: the Brown decision in 1954, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act in 1965 helped bring about the demise of the entangling web of legislation that bound blacks to second class citizenship. One hundred years after the Civil War, blacks and their white allies still pursued the battle for equal rights in every area of American life. While there is more to achieve in ending discrimination, major milestones in civil rights laws are on the books for the purpose of regulating equal access to public accommodations, equal justice before the law, and equal employment, education, and housing opportunities. African Americans have had unprecedented openings in many fields of learning and in the arts. The black struggle for civil rights also inspired other liberation and rights movements, including those of Native Americans, Latinos, and women, and African Americans have lent their support to liberation struggles in Africa.

Few other institutions can present the African American mosaic of life and culture as completely as the Library of Congress. The Library's photographs, film footage, newspapers, magazines, manuscripts, and music holdings chronicle this period better than any other collection in existence. In addition to the NAACP and NUL papers, the Library also holds papers of civil rights activists such as Thurgood Marshall, Roy Wilkins, Patricia Roberts Harris, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Mary Church Terrell, Robert Terrell, Nannie Helen Burroughs, and others. Although the quest may not be fully realized, the Library's collections document the relentless and significant process of pursuing full equality.


Employment Discrimination During The Civil Rights Movement

During the Civil Rights, discrimination was widespread throughout the nation not only in the public, school, and society, additionally, in the workplace. Although discrimination in the workplace might not seem like a big deal, the lives of those who experienced this were significantly affected. They were stopped by employers in any possible way so they would not get the same opportunities as the Caucasian workers did. They faced many obstacles in the application process and in the worksite. Discrimination in employment affected the Civil Rights movement by the lawsuits filed, the laws created for the discrimination in employment, and the impact and outcome of the movement today .
Many lawsuits were filed concerning the racial discrimination.

According to Amato, "It was not until the 1970s that African Americans were able to compete for job opportunities with white Americans" (1). Amato proves employment discrimination affect the Civil Rights movement by the laws created. Before the 1970s African Americans didn’t have equality in job opportunities as other Americans. Non-African American males who have a criminal record were more likely to be employed than African American males without a criminal record even though employers preferred job applications with no record of crime. To justify all acts, the Congress commanded any tests used must be to measure the person for the job. This way everyone was evaluated.

Many felt that the Civil Rights Act had a positive impact on African Americans and other minorities. The numbers and percentages of African Americans in middle-class jobs increased, and it gave them confidence and chance to do what they're gifted in. "It benefited blacks in other ways, too. As they acquired confidence in their ability to organize and to affect political change, they gained greater pride in their cultural strengths and accomplishments, notably (but not only) in the fields of music, dance, film, and sports" (Patterson, 1). In this quote Patterson proves discrimination in employment affected the Civil Rights movement by the impact of the movement today. In 2014 60percent of Caucasians and 55percent of African Americans say race relations to be good. The racial tensions have been loosened because of the many accomplishments done by the people.
African Americans and other minorities, now, have equal opportunities in the society and the workplace. Today, people are more open to diversity and accept the differences in others. For example, African American artists' work received widespread notice. The negative stereotype of African American people and culture became less widespread. People see the distribution they bring to the society. Now, there are less discrimination cases in employments than 25 years ago. This is mostly because of the management department in the.


Racial Violence Affected Many American Cities

ullstein bild/Getty Images The Cicero riot of 1951. After just one Black family moved into a white neighborhood in Cicero, Illinois, a mob of 4,000 white people attacked the entire apartment building.

“Bombingham” was not the only place where Black residents faced threats of violence. Similar incidents occurred in other cities across America.

In Philadelphia, more than 200 Black people who tried to rent or buy homes at the edges of the city’s segregated districts were attacked during the first six months of 1955 alone. And in Los Angeles, over 100 African Americans were targeted with violence when they attempted to move out of segregated neighborhoods between 1950 and 1965.

On July 11, 1951, one of the biggest race riots in U.S. history erupted after just one Black family moved into an apartment in the all-white town of Cicero, Illinois. The husband, Harvey Clark Jr., was determined to get his wife and two kids out of a crowded tenement on Chicago’s South Side.

But when the World War II veteran tried to move his family into his new place, the sheriff told him, “Get out of here fast. There will be no moving into this building.”

After Clark returned with a court order in hand, he finally moved his family’s belongings into the apartment. But they weren’t able to stay a single night in their new home, due to the racist white mob that had gathered outside. Before long, the mob numbered up to 4,000 people.

Even after the family fled, the mob didn’t leave. Instead, they stormed into the apartment, threw the furniture out the window, and tore out the sinks. Then, they firebombed the entire building, leaving even the white tenants without a home.

A total of 118 men were arrested for rioting, but none of them were ever indicted. Instead, the agent and the owner of the apartment building were indicted for causing the riot by renting to a Black family in the first place.

AP Race massacres were nothing new in America. Even before the civil rights movement kicked off in the 1950s, the country was plagued by riots, like this one in Detroit in 1943.

Riots weren’t the only things keeping American neighborhoods segregated — several government policies played a role as well. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which was formed in 1934, often refused to insure mortgages in and near African-American neighborhoods. This policy is now known as redlining — and it was commonplace all across the country.

Some cities also enacted zoning policies to keep neighborhoods segregated. For instance, exclusionary zoning banned multi-family homes and apartments in certain areas, limiting Black residents’ access to all-white neighborhoods. Meanwhile, the FHA manual argued that “incompatible racial groups should not be permitted to live in the same communities.”

The FHA even recommended “racial covenants” where neighborhoods promised to never rent or sell their property to a Black buyer.


Student Protest

Students, both college and high school, played a major role in desegregating the south. On February 1, 1960 four African American college students initiated a nonviolent protest at the segregated lunch counter in a Woolworth's store in Greensboro, North Carolina. Over the course of several months, hundreds of students participated in what would become known as "sit-in" demonstrations that rapidly spread to other cities.

Following the success of the sit-in movements, student protestors focused their attention on addressing Jim Crow transportation laws. In the late 1940s, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) had organized a series of nonviolent protests to challenge racial segregation on the interstate bus routes. These protests, called "the journeys of reconciliation," had brought teams of whites and blacks to challenge segregation laws together by sitting in white sections of buses. Nearly 15 years later, when the Supreme Court ruled that segregation on bus and railroad transportation was unconstitutional, reversing the 1896 Plessey v. Ferguson decision that created the notion of "separate but equal," CORE revived this form of nonviolent protest under the new name of "Freedom Rides" to test the nation's intention of enforcing the new legislation. Starting on May 4, 1961, groups of young black and white protestors from CORE and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) traveled from Washington, D.C. to Atlanta, and then to cities and towns in the Deep South.

Whites deliberately sat with blacks in white-only waiting rooms and restaurants to challenge local segregation codes. Freedom Riders were frequently harassed, arrested, and assaulted. Despite assurance from the Alabama Governor John Patterson that the Freedom Riders would be protected when they rode into Birmingham, neither police nor state highway patrolmen were present in the bus terminal. Mobs of whites attacked them, focusing their anger on Jim Zwerg, a white freedom Rider who was brutally beaten. John Lewis, a seminary student who later became head of SNCC and two decades later a congressman for Georgia, was knocked to the ground and beaten unconscious.

In response to the violence carried out against Freedom Riders, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. went to Montgomery to show his support. During his address at the First Baptist Church, a white mob surrounded the building. The governor of Alabama declared a state of martial law. At 4 a.m. the troops arrived at the church and escorted the parishioners safely to their homes. As state police and the National Guard were called into Montgomery, the crowds of white vigilantes disappeared. The morning after the mob violence at the Montgomery church, U.S. Attorney Robert Kennedy urged Freedom Riders to declare a "cooling-off period." But after CORE leader James Farmer and other activists refused, Kennedy approached Mississippi Senator James O. Eastland to guarantee the safety of Freedom Riders traveling through Mississippi.

The ordeals of Freedom Riders were widely publicized throughout the world and generated significant support for the cause of racial desegregation in the South. During the first two years of his administration, President Kennedy attempted to placate white southern Democrats by not aggressively supporting a civil rights agenda. However, the spectacle of young student protesters being beaten viciously by white mobs convinced Attorney General Robert Kennedy that greater action on behalf of desegregation activists was needed. As a result of his urging, the Interstate Commerce Commission finally banned racial segregation on interstate bus transportation on September 22, 1961.


Freedom Riders

Use this narrative with The March on Birmingham Narrative the Black Power Narrative the Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” 1963 Primary Source the Martin Luther King Jr., “I Have a Dream,” August 28, 1963 Primary Source the Civil Disobedience across Time Lesson the The Music of the Civil Rights Movement Lesson and the Civil Rights DBQ Lesson to discuss the different aspects of the civil rights movement during the 1960s.

After World War II, the civil rights movement sought equal rights and integration for African Americans through a combination of federal action and local activism. One specific area the movement attempted to change was the segregation of interstate travel. In Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia (1946), the Supreme Court had ruled that segregated seating on interstate buses was unconstitutional, but the ruling was largely ignored in southern states.

In 1960, the Supreme Court followed up on its earlier decision and ordered the integration of interstate buses and terminals. In 1961, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which had been formed in 1942, appointed a new national director, James Farmer. Farmer’s idea for a freedom ride to desegregate interstate buses was inspired by the college students who had launched the recent spontaneous and nonviolent sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters, starting in Greensboro, North Carolina. These sit-ins had soon spread to 100 cities across the South. Farmer decided to have an interracial group ride the buses from Washington, DC, to New Orleans to commemorate the anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education case.

James Farmer was a leader in the civil rights movement and, in 1961, helped organize the first freedom ride.

Members of CORE sent letters to President Kennedy, his brother Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director J. Edgar Hoover, the chair of the Interstate Commerce Commission, and the president of the Greyhound Corporation announcing their intentions to make the ride and hoping for protection. CORE decided to move forward despite receiving no response.

The 13 recruits underwent three days of intensive training in the philosophy of nonviolence, role playing the difficult situations they could expect to encounter. On May 4, 1961, six of the riders boarded a Greyhound bus and seven took a Trailways bus, planning to ride to New Orleans. The riders knew they would face racial epithets, violence, and possibly death. They hoped they had the courage to face the trial nonviolently in their fight for equality.

The riders challenged the segregated bus seating, with black participants riding in the “white” sections and riders of both races using segregated lunch counters and restrooms in the Virginia cities of Fredericksburg, Richmond, Farmville, and Lynchburg, but no one seemed to care. After they crossed into North Carolina, one of the black riders was arrested trying to get a shoeshine at a whites-only chair in Charlotte but was soon released. The group faced physical violence for the first time in Rock Hill, South Carolina: John Lewis, a black college student Albert Bigelow, an older white activist and Genevieve Hughes, a young white woman, were all assaulted before they were rushed to safety by a local black pastor. Two more riders were arrested and released in Winnsboro, and two riders had to interrupt the ride for other commitments, but four new riders joined.

On May 6, while the rides continued, the attorney general delivered a major civil rights address promising that the Kennedy administration would enforce civil rights laws. Though he seemed more concerned with America’s image abroad during the Cold War, he stated that the administration “will not stand by and be aloof.” The freedom rides presented an opportunity for the attorney general to fulfill that promise.

Attorney General Robert Kennedy was a supporter of enforcing federal civil rights laws. He spoke to CORE in 1963, outside the Justice Department in Washington, DC.

In Augusta and Atlanta, Georgia, the riders ate at desegregated lunch counters and sat in desegregated waiting rooms. They were discovering that different communities throughout several southern states had different racial mores. They met with Martin Luther King Jr., who shared intelligence he had about impending violence in Alabama. A Birmingham police sergeant, Tom Cook, and the public safety commissioner, Bull Connor, were in league with the local Ku Klux Klan (KKK), which was planning a violent reception for the riders in that city. Cook and Connor had agreed that the mob could beat the riders for about 15 minutes before they would send the police and make a show of restoring order. The FBI had informed the attorney general, but neither acted to protect the riders or even to inform them of what awaited them.

The Greyhound bus departed Atlanta on the morning of May 14. The first group reached a stop in Anniston, Alabama, where an angry mob of whites armed with guns, bats, and brass knuckles surrounded the bus. Two undercover Alabama Highway Patrol officers on the bus quickly locked the doors, but members of the crowd smashed its windows. The Anniston police temporarily restored order and the bus left, trailed by 30 to 40 cars that then surrounded it and forced it to stop. Suddenly, a member of the crowd hurled flaming rags into the bus, and it exploded into flames. The riders climbed out through windows and the doors, barely escaping with their lives. The mob assaulted them and used a baseball bat on the skull of a young black male, Hank Thomas, before an undercover officer fired his gun into the air and a fuel tank exploded, dispersing the crowd. The riders went to the hospital, where they were refused care and were driven in activists’ cars to Birmingham.

A Greyhound bus carrying freedom riders was firebombed by an angry mob while in Anniston, Alabama, in 1961. Forced to evacuate, the passengers were then assaulted. (credit: “Freedom Riders Bus Attack” by Federal Bureau of Investigation)

The riders on the Trailways bus were terrorized by KKK hoodlums who boarded in Atlanta. At first, the white supremacists merely taunted the riders with warnings about the violence that awaited them in Birmingham, but when the riders sat in the white section of the bus, horrific violence erupted. Two riders were punched in the face and knocked to the floor where they were repeatedly kicked and beaten into unconsciousness. Two other riders tried to intervene peacefully and suffered the same fate. They were dragged to the back of the bus and dumped there.

Bull Connor carried out his plan not to post officers at the Birmingham bus station, with the excuse that it was Mother’s Day. Consequently, another large mob awaited the riders and forced them off the bus and assaulted them. Riders Ike Reynolds and Charles Person were knocked down and bloodied by a series of vicious blows. An older white rider, Jim Peck, was struck in the head several times, opening a wound that required 53 stitches. Peck later told a reporter that he endured the violence courageously to “show that nonviolence can prevail over violence.” The police finally showed up after the allotted 15 minutes but made no arrests. Other riders escaped, and they all met at Reverend Fred Shuttleworth’s church.

Americans across the country learned about the violence as the images of burning buses and beaten riders were broadcast on television and printed in newspapers. President Kennedy was preparing for a foreign summit and wanted the freedom riders to stop causing controversy. Attorney General Kennedy tried to persuade the Alabama governor, John Patterson, to protect the riders but was frustrated in the attempt. Also exasperated by Greyhound’s unwillingness to provide a new bus for the riders, the attorney general sent one federal official, John Seigenthaler, to the riders in Birmingham.

The riders planned to go to Montgomery and continue to New Orleans but could not find a bus. They reluctantly settled on flying to their final destination but had to wait out bomb threats before quietly boarding a flight. Although the CORE freedom ride was over, Diane Nash, a black student at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, was inspired by their example. She coordinated additional freedom rides to desegregate interstate travel, which immediately proceeded from Nashville to Birmingham to finish the ride.

On Wednesday, the new group of riders were met at the Birmingham terminal by the police, who quickly arrested them. The riders went on a hunger strike in jail and were dumped on the side of the road more than 100 miles away in Tennessee before sunrise on Friday. However, they simply drove back to Birmingham, where they attempted to board a bus for Montgomery, but the terrified driver refused to let them on. The Kennedy administration negotiated a settlement in which the state police were to protect the bus bound for Montgomery.

The bus pulled into the Birmingham station, but the police cars disappeared. The freedom riders faced another horrendous scene: a crowd armed with bricks, pipes, baseball bats, and sticks yelling death threats. A young white man, Jim Zwerg, stepped off the bus first and was dragged down into the mob and knocked unconscious. Two female riders were pummeled, one by a woman swinging a purse and repeatedly hitting her in the head, the other by a man punching her repeatedly in the face.

Seigenthaler attempted to rescue the women by putting them into his car and driving away, but he was dragged from the car and knocked unconscious with a pipe and kicked in the ribs. A young black rider, William Barbee, was beaten into submission with a baseball bat and suffered permanent brain damage. A black bystander was even set afire after having kerosene thrown on him. The mayhem ended when a state police officer fired warning shots into the ceiling of the station. All the riders needed medical attention and were rushed to a local hospital.

That night, Martin Luther King Jr. came to Montgomery. Protected by a ring of federal marshals, King addressed a mass rally at First Baptist Church. He told the assembly, “Alabama will have to face the fact that we are determined to be free. The main thing I want to say to you is fear not, we’ve come too far to turn back . . . We are not afraid and we shall overcome.” Meanwhile, a white riot had erupted outside the church, and congregants spent the night inside.

A compromise was worked out two days later to get the riders out of Alabama and send them to Mississippi. A total of 27 freedom riders boarded the buses safely, accompanied by the Alabama National Guard, which, to the riders, defeated the purpose of challenging segregated seating on the bus. They were all arrested in Jackson in the bus depot for violating segregation statutes and were taken to jail. In the coming weeks, additional rides were made, but all suffered the same fate and more than 80 riders landed in jail under deplorable conditions.

Freedom riders Priscilla Stephens, from CORE, and Reverend Petty D. McKinney, from Nyack, New York, are shown after their arrest by the police in Tallahassee, Florida, in June 1961.

During the summer, the national media and many Americans lost interest in the freedom rides. A Gallup Poll in mid-June showed that a majority of Americans supported desegregated interstate travel and the use of federal marshals to enforce it. However, 64 percent of Americans disapproved of the rides after initial expressions of sympathy, and 61 percent thought civil rights should be achieved gradually instead of through direct action.

The civil rights movement was undeterred by such popular opinion. The 1960 Greensboro sit-ins and the 1961 freedom rides created a new momentum in the struggle for equal rights and freedom. Over the next few years, civil rights activists directly confronted segregation through nonviolent tactics at places like Birmingham and Selma to arouse the national conscience and to pressure the federal government for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Review Questions

1. The freedom rides in 1961 were most directly inspired by

  1. the lunch counter sit-ins started in Greensboro, North Carolina
  2. the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education
  3. the Supreme Court’s decision in Morgan v. Commonwealth
  4. the formation of the Congress of Racial Equality

2. Freedom riders from the early 1960s were best known for

  1. inciting violent protests against urban policing policies
  2. providing transportation to those participating in the Montgomery bus boycott
  3. boycotting travel on segregated buses across the South
  4. challenging segregated seating on interstate bus routes

3. Response to the freedom riders as they travelled throughout the South illustrated

  1. uniformly violent opposition to their actions
  2. varied racial attitudes and reactions on the part of southerners
  3. widespread indifference
  4. local support and public mobilization of the black community

4. The freedom riders encountered the most violent reactions to their methods in

  1. Lynchburg, Virginia
  2. Charlotte, North Carolina
  3. Atlanta, Georgia
  4. Birmingham, Alabama

5. The federal government’s response to the freedom rides was characterized generally by

  1. overwhelming support, including federal protection of the riders
  2. the full support of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy, but not of Congress
  3. observation and information gathering but limited actual support
  4. official training in nonviolent tactics but little overt support

6. Compared with earlier tactics in the movement, in the early 1960s, new civil rights groups advocated greater emphasis on

  1. taking direct action
  2. working through the federal court system
  3. inciting violent revolution
  4. electing local officials sympathetic to their cause

7. The actions of the freedom riders most directly contributed to the

  1. Brown v. Board of Education decision
  2. Civil Rights Act of 1964
  3. Voting Rights Act of 1965
  4. election of President John F. Kennedy

Free Response Questions

  1. Explain how the freedom riders of the early 1960s drew upon the U.S. Constitution to justify their actions.
  2. Explain how the freedom rides of the early 1960s represented an evolution in the methods of the civil rights movement.

AP Practice Questions

A Greyhound bus carrying freedom riders was firebombed by an angry mob while in Anniston, Alabama, in 1961. Forced to evacuate, the passengers were then assaulted. (credit: “Freedom Riders Bus Attack” by Federal Bureau of Investigation)

1. The events in the image most directly led to

  1. a Supreme Court decision declaring segregation unconstitutional
  2. increased support for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  3. the development of the counterculture
  4. Martin Luther King Jr.’s becoming a civil rights leader

2. The event in the photograph contributed to which of the following?

  1. Debates over the role of government in American life
  2. An increase in public confidence in political institutions
  3. Domestic opposition to containment
  4. The abandonment of direct-action techniques to achieve civil rights

3. The event in the image was most directly shaped by

  1. the techniques and strategies of the anti-war movement
  2. desegregation of the armed forces
  3. a desire to achieve the promise of the Fourteenth Amendment
  4. Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program

Primary Sources

Suggested Resources

Arsenault, Raymond. Freedom Rides: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Branch, Taylor. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988.

Chafe, William. Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Black Struggle for Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Dudziak, Mary L. Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Graham, Hugh Davis. The Civil Rights Era: Origins and Development of National Policy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Lawson, Stephen F., and Charles Payne. Debating the Civil Rights Movement, 1945-1968. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998.

Salmond, John A. “My Mind Set on Freedom:” A History of the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1968. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1997.

Stern, Mark. Calculating Visions: Kennedy, Johnson, and Civil Rights. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992.


Get On the Bus: The Freedom Riders of 1961

Freedom Riders Jimmy McDonald, left, and Hank Thomas and regular passenger Roberta Holmes sit in front of the burned-out shell of a "Freedom Bus" on May 14, 1961. Oxford University Press hide caption

Freedom Riders Jimmy McDonald, left, and Hank Thomas and regular passenger Roberta Holmes sit in front of the burned-out shell of a "Freedom Bus" on May 14, 1961.

Ku Klux Klansmen beat black bystander George Webb in the Birmingham Trailways bus station, May 14, 1961. The man with his back to the camera (center right) is FBI undercover agent Gary Thomas Rowe. Oxford University Press hide caption

Ku Klux Klansmen beat black bystander George Webb in the Birmingham Trailways bus station, May 14, 1961. The man with his back to the camera (center right) is FBI undercover agent Gary Thomas Rowe.

Jim Peck, seated, talks with a Justice Dept. representative and Ben Cox on the "freedom plane" to New Orleans, May 15, 1961. Photo by Theodore Gaffney. Oxford University Press hide caption

In 1961, the Freedom Riders set out for the Deep South to defy Jim Crow laws and call for change. They were met by hatred and violence — and local police often refused to intervene. But the Riders' efforts transformed the civil rights movement.

Raymond Arsenault is the author of Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice. The book details how volunteers — both black and white — traveled to Mississippi and Alabama to fight segregation in transit systems.

Despite being backed by recent federal rulings that it was unconstitutional to segregate bus riders, the Freedom Riders met with obstinate resistance — as in Birmingham and Montgomery, where white supremacists attacked bus depots themselves.

In Freedom Riders, Arsenault details how the first Freedom Rides developed, from the personal level to the legal maneuvering involved. His narrative touches on elements from the jails of Alabama to the Kennedy White House.

Arsenault is the John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History and co-director of the Florida Studies Program at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg. His previous writing includes Land of Sunshine,State of Dreams: A Social History of Modern Florida and Crucible of Liberty: 200 Years of the Bill of Rights, which he edited.

Read an excerpt from Freedom Riders:

Alabama Bound

We had most trouble, it turned into a struggle,

And that 'hound broke down, and left us all stranded,

Jim Farmer's unexpected departure placed a heavy burden on Jim Peck, who suddenly found himself in charge of the Freedom Ride. As Farmer left for the Atlanta airport, Peck could not help wondering if he would ever see his old friend again. They had been through a lot together — surviving the depths of the Cold War and CORE's lean years, not to mention the first ten days of the Freedom Ride. Now Peck had to go on alone, perhaps to glory, but more likely to an untimely rendezvous with violence, or even death. When Peck phoned Fred Shuttlesworth, the outspoken pastor of Birmingham's Bethel Baptist Church and the leader of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, to give him the exact arrival times of the two "Freedom Buses," the normally unflappable minister offered an alarming picture of what the Freedom Riders could expect once they reached Birmingham. The city was alive with rumors that a white mob planned to greet the Riders at the downtown bus stations. Shuttlesworth was not privy to FBI surveillance and did not know any of the details, but he urged Peck to be careful. Peck, trying to avoid a last-minute panic, relayed Shuttlesworth's warning to the group in a calm and matter-of-fact fashion. He also repeated Tom Gaither's warning about Anniston, a rest stop on the bus route to Birmingham. But he quickly added that he had no reason to believe the Riders would encounter any serious trouble prior to their arrival in downtown Birmingham. Barring any unforeseen problems, the four-hour ride would give them plenty of time to prepare a properly nonviolent response to the waiting mob — if, in fact, the mob existed.

Faced with staggered bus schedules, the two groups of Freedom Riders left Atlanta an hour apart. The Greyhound group, with Joe Perkins in charge, was the first to leave, at 11:00 A.M. The bus was more than half empty, unusual for the Atlanta-to-Birmingham run. Fourteen passengers were on board: five regular passengers, seven Freedom Riders — Genevieve Hughes, Bert Bigelow, Hank Thomas, Jimmy McDonald, Mae Frances Moultrie, Joe Perkins, Ed Blankenheim — and two journalists, Charlotte Devree and Moses Newson. Among the "regular" passengers were Roy Robinson, the manager f the Atlanta Greyhound station, and two undercover plainclothes agents of the Alabama Highway Patrol, Corporals Ell Cowling and Harry Sims. Both Cowling and Sims sat in the back of the bus, several rows behind the scattered Freedom Riders, who had no inkling of who these two seemingly innocuous white men actually were. Following the orders of Floyd Mann, the director of the Alabama Highway Patrol, Cowling carried a hidden microphone designed to eavesdrop on the Riders. Unsure of the Freedom Ride's itinerary, Mann — and Governor John Patterson — wanted Cowling to gather information on the Riders and their plans.

During the ninety-minute trip to Tallapoosa, the last stop in Georgia, on Highway 78, none of the passengers said very much, other than a few words of nervous small talk. Around one o'clock the bus crossed the Alabama line and followed the road in a southwesterly arc to Heflin, a small country town on the edge of the Talladega National Forest. After a brief rest stop in Heflin, the Greyhound continued west through De Armanville and Oxford before turning north on Highway 21 toward Anniston. The largest city in Calhoun County and the second largest in east-central Alabama, Anniston as a no-nonsense army town that depended on nearby Fort McClellan and a sprawling ordnance depot for much of its livelihood. Known for its hard-edged race relations, Anniston boasted a relatively large black population (approximately 30 percent in 1961), a well-established NAACP branch, and some of the most aggressive and violent Klansmen in Alabama.

Just south of Anniston, the driver of a southbound Greyhound motioned to the driver of the Freedom Riders' bus, O. T. Jones, to pull over to the side of the road. A white man then ran across the road and yelled to Jones through the window: "There's an angry and unruly crowd gathered at Anniston. There's a rumor that some people on this bus are going to stage a sit-in. The terminal has been closed. Be careful." With this message the Riders' worst fears seemed to be confirmed, but Joe Perkins — hoping that the warning was a bluff, or at least an exaggeration — urged the driver to keep going. A minute or two later, as the bus passed the city limits, several of the Riders couldn't help but notice that Anniston's sidewalks were lined with people, an unusual sight on a Sunday afternoon in a Deep South town. "It seemed that everyone in the town was out to greet us," Genevieve Hughes later commented.

Amazingly enough, Hank Thomas did not recall seeing anyone on the streets. He did remember the strange feeling that he and the other Riders experienced as the bus eased into the station parking lot just after 1:00 P.M. The station was locked shut, and there was silence — and then suddenly, as if out of nowhere, a screaming mob led by Anniston Klan leader William Chappell rushed the bus. Thomas thought he heard Jones encourage the attackers with a sly greeting. "Well, boys, here they are," the driver reportedly said with a smirk. "I brought you some niggers and nigger-lovers." But it all happened so fast that no one was quite sure who was saying what to whom.

As the crowd of about fifty surrounded the bus, an eighteen-year-old Klansman and ex-convict named Roger Couch stretched out on the pavement in front of the bus to block any attempt to leave, while the rest — carrying metal pipes, clubs, and chains — milled around menacingly, some screaming, "Dirty Communists" and "Sieg heil!" There was no sign of any police, even though Herman Glass, the manager of the Anniston Greyhound station, had warned local officials earlier in the day that a potentially violent mob had gathered around the station. After the driver opened the door, Cowling and Sims hurried

to the front to prevent anyone from entering. Leaning on the door lever, the two unarmed investigators managed to close the door and seal the bus, but they could not stop several of the most frenzied attackers from smashing windows, denting the sides of the bus, and slashing tires. "One man stood on the steps, yelling, and calling us cowards," Hughes noticed, but her attention soon turned to a second man who "walked by the side of the bus, slipped a pistol from his pocket and stared at me for some minutes." When she heard a loud noise and shattering glass, she yelled, "Duck, down everyone," thinking that a bullet had hit one of the windows. The projectile turned out to be a rock, but another assailant soon cracked the window above her seat with a fist full of brass knuckles. Joe Perkins's window later suffered a similar fate, as the siege continued for almost twenty minutes. By the time the Anniston police arrived on the scene, the bus looked like it had been in a serious collision. Swaggering through the crowd with billy clubs in hand, the police officers examined the broken windows and slashed tires but showed no interest in arresting anyone. After a few minutes of friendly banter with members of the crowd, the officers suddenly cleared a path and motioned for the bus to exit the parking lot.

A police car escorted the battered Greyhound to the city limits but then turned back, once again leaving the bus to the mercy of the mob. A long line of cars and pickup trucks, plus one car carrying a news reporter and a photographer, had followed the police escort from the station and was ready to resume the assault. Once the entourage reached an isolated stretch of Highway 202 east of Bynum, two of the cars (one of which was driven by Roger Couch's older brother Jerome) raced around the front of the bus and then slowed to a crawl, forcing the bus driver to slow down. Trailing behind were thirty or forty cars and trucks jammed with shrieking whites. Many, like Chappell and the Couches, were Klansmen, though none wore hoods or robes. Some, having just come from church, were dressed in their Sunday best — coats and ties and polished shoes — and a few even had children with them. The whole scene was darkly surreal and became even more so when a pair of flat tires forced the bus driver to pull over to the side of the road in front of the Forsyth and Son grocery store six miles southwest of town, only a few hundred yards from the Anniston Army Depot. Flinging open the door, the driver, with Robinson trailing close behind, ran into the grocery store and began calling local garages in what turned out to be a futile effort to find replacement tires for the bus. In the meantime, the passengers were left vulnerable to a swarm of onrushing vigilantes. Cowling had just enough time to retrieve his revolver from the baggage compartment before the mob surrounded the bus. The first to reach the Greyhound was a teenage boy who smashed a crowbar through one of the side windows. While one group of men and boys rocked the bus in a vain attempt to turn the vehicle on its side, a second tried to enter through the front door. With gun in hand, Cowling stood in the doorway to block the intruders, but he soon retreated, locking the door behind him. For the next twenty minutes Chappell and other Klansmen pounded on the bus demanding that the Freedom Riders come out to take what was coming to them, but they stayed in their seats, even after the arrival of two highway patrolmen. When neither patrolman made any effort to disperse the crowd, Cowling, Sims, and the Riders decided to stay put.

Eventually, however, two members of the mob, Roger Couch and Cecil "Goober" Lewallyn, decided that they had waited long enough. After returning to his car, which was parked a few yards behind the disabled Greyhound, Lewallyn suddenly ran toward the bus and tossed a flaming bundle of rags through a broken window. Within seconds the bundle exploded, sending dark gray smoke throughout the bus. At first, Genevieve Hughes, seated only a few feet away from the explosion, thought the bomb-thrower was just trying to scare the Freedom Riders with a smoke bomb, but as the smoke got blacker and blacker and as flames began to engulf several of the upholstered seats, she realized that she and the other passengers were in serious trouble. Crouching down in the middle of the bus, she screamed out, "Is there any air up front?" When no one answered, she began to panic. "Oh, my God, they're going to burn us up!" she yelled to the others, who were lost in a dense cloud of smoke. Making her way forward, she finally found an open window six rows from the front and thrust her head out, gasping for air. As she looked out, she saw the outstretched necks of Jimmy McDonald and Charlotte Devree, who had also found open windows. Seconds later, all three squeezed through the windows and dropped to the ground. Still choking from the smoke and fumes, they staggered across the street. Gazing back at the burning bus, they feared that the other passengers were still trapped inside, but they soon caught sight of several passengers who had escaped through the front door on the other side.

They were all lucky to be alive. Several members of the mob had pressed against the door screaming, "Burn them alive" and "Fry the goddamn niggers," and the Freedom Riders had been all but doomed until an exploding fuel tank convinced the mob that the whole bus was about to explode. As the frightened whites retreated, Cowling pried open the door, allowing the rest of the choking passengers to escape. When Hank Thomas, the first Rider to exit the front of the bus, crawled away from the doorway, a white man rushed toward him and asked, "Are you all okay?" Before Thomas could answer, the man's concerned look turned into a sneer as he struck the astonished student in the head with a baseball bat. Thomas fell to the ground and was barely conscious as the rest of the exiting Riders spilled out onto the grass.

By this time, several of the white families living in the surrounding Bynum neighborhood had formed a small crowd in front of the grocery store. Most of the onlookers remained safely in the background, but a few stepped forward to offer assistance to the Riders. One little girl, twelve-year-old Janie Miller, supplied the choking victims with water, filling and refilling a five-gallon bucket while braving the insults and taunts of Klansmen. Later ostracized and threatened for this act of kindness, she and her family found it impossible to remain in Anniston in the aftermath of the bus bombing. Even though city leaders were quick to condemn the bombing, there was little sympathy for the Riders among local whites. Indeed, while Miller was coming to the Riders' aid, some of her neighbors were urging the marauding Klansmen on.

At one point, with the Riders lying "on the ground around the bus, coughing and bleeding," the mob surged forward. But Cowling's pistol, the heat of the fire, and the acrid fumes wafting from the burning upholstery kept them away. Moments later a second fuel tank explosion drove them back even farther, and eventually a couple of warning shots fired into the air by the highway patrolmen on the scene signaled that the would-be lynching party was over. As the disappointed vigilantes slipped away, Cowling, Sims, and the patrolmen stood guard over the Riders, most of whom were lying or sitting in a daze a few yards from the burned-out shell of the bus. But no one in a position of authority showed any interest in identifying or arresting those responsible for the assault. No one wrote down the license numbers of the Klansmen's cars and pickup trucks, and no one seemed in any hurry to call an ambulance. Several of the Riders had inhaled smoke and fumes and were in serious need of medical attention, but it would be some time before any of them saw a doctor. One sympathetic white couple who lived nearby allowed Hughes to use their phone to call for an ambulance, and when no one answered, they drove her to the hospital. For the rest of the stricken Riders, getting to the hospital proved to be a bit more complicated. When the ambulance called by one of the state troopers finally arrived, the driver refused to transport any of the injured black Riders. After a few moments of awkward silence, the white Riders, already loaded into the ambulance, began to exit, insisting they could not leave their black friends behind. With this gesture — and a few stern words from Cowling — the driver's resolve weakened, and before long the integrated band was on its way to Anniston Memorial Hospital.

Unfortunately, the scene at the hospital offered the Riders little solace. The first to arrive, Hughes found the medical care in Anniston almost as frightening as the burning bus:

There was no doctor at the hospital, only a nurse. They had me breathe pure oxygen but that only burned my throat and did not relieve the coughing. I was burning hot and my clothes were a wet mess. After awhile Ed and Bert were brought in, choking. We all lay on our beds and coughed. Finally a woman doctor came in — she had to look up smoke poisoning before treating us. They brought in the Negro man who had been in the back of the bus with me. I pointed to him and told them to take care of him. But they did not bring him into our emergency room. I understand that they did not do anything at all for Hank. Thirteen in all were brought in, and three were admitted: Ed, the Negro man and myself. They gave me a room and I slept. When I woke up the nurse asked me if I could talk with the FBI. The FBI man did not care about us, but only the bombing.

Hughes's general distrust of the FBI's attitude toward civil rights activists was clearly warranted, but — unbeknownst to her — the FBI agent on the scene had actually intervened on the Freedom Riders' behalf. At his urging, the medical staff agreed to treat all of the injured passengers, black and white, though in the end they failed to do so. When the ambulance full of Freedom Riders arrived at the hospital, a group of Klansmen made an unsuccessful attempt to block the entrance to the emergency room. Later, as the crowd outside the hospital grew to menacing proportions, hospital officials began to panic, especially after several Klansmen threatened to burn the building to the ground. With nightfall approaching and with no prospect of adequate police protection, the superintendent ordered the Riders to leave the hospital as soon as possible.

Hughes and several other Riders were in no shape to leave, but Joe Perkins, the leader of the Greyhound group, had no choice but to comply with the evacuation order. Struggling to conceal his rage, he told the Riders to be ready to leave in twenty minutes, though it actually took him well over an hour to arrange safe passage out of the hospital. After both the state troopers and the local police refused to provide the Riders with transportation — or even an escort — Bert Bigelow called friends in Washington in a vain effort to get help from the federal government. A few minutes later Perkins placed a frantic call to Fred Shuttlesworth in Birmingham. A native of the Alabama Black Belt, Shuttlesworth knew enough about towns like Anniston to know that the Freedom Riders were in serious danger. Mobilizing a fleet of eight cars, he planned to lead the rescue mission himself until his longtime bodyguard, Colonel Stone "Buck" Johnson, persuaded him to remain in Birmingham with the Trailways Riders, who had arrived in the city earlier in the afternoon. Just before the cars left for Anniston, Shuttlesworth reminded Johnson and the other volunteers that this was a nonviolent operation. "Gentlemen, this is dangerous," he admitted, "but. you mustn't carry any weapons. You must trust God and have faith." All of the "deacons" nodded in assent, but as soon as they were safely out of sight, several of the faithful pulled out shotguns from beneath their seats. Checking triggers and ammunition, they made sure they would be able to defend themselves if the going got rough.

While the Riders waited for Shuttlesworth's deacons to make their way across the back roads of the Alabama hill country, the Anniston hospital superintendent grew impatient and reminded Perkins that the interracial group would not be allowed to spend the night in the hospital. Perhaps, he suggested with a wry smile, they could find refuge in the bus station. Fortunately, the superintendent's mean-spirited suggestion became moot a few minutes later when the rescue mission pulled into the hospital parking lot. With the police holding back the jeering crowd, and with the deacons openly displaying their weapons, the weary but relieved Riders piled into the cars, which promptly drove off into the gathering dusk. "We walked right between those Ku Klux," Buck Johnson later recalled. "Some of them had clubs. There were some deputies too. You couldn't tell the deputies from the Ku Klux."

As the convoy raced toward Birmingham, the Riders peppered their rescuers with questions about the fate of the Trailways group. Perkins's conversation with Shuttlesworth earlier in the afternoon had revealed that the other bus had also run into trouble, but few details had been available. The deacons themselves knew only part of the story, but even the barest outline was enough to confirm the Riders' worst fears: The attack on the bus in Anniston could not be dismissed as the work of an unorganized mob. As the deacons described what had happened to the Trailways group, the true nature of the Riders' predicament came into focus: With the apparent connivance of law enforcement officials, the organized defenders of white supremacy in Alabama had decided to smash the Freedom Ride with violence, in effect announcing to the world that they had no intention of letting the law, the U.S. Constitution, or anything else interfere with the preservation of racial segregation in their sovereign state.

The Trailway Riders' ordeal began even before the group left Atlanta. As Peck and the other Riders waited in line to purchase their tickets, they couldn't help noticing that several regular passengers had disappeared from the line after being approached by a group of white men. The white men themselves — later identified as Alabama Klansmen — eventually boarded the bus, but only a handful of other regular passengers joined them. The Klansmen were beefy, rough-looking characters, mostly in their twenties or thirties, and their hulking presence gave the Riders an uneasy feeling as the bus pulled out. There were seven Freedom Riders scattered throughout the bus: the Bergmans, Jim Peck, Charles Person, Herman Harris, Jerry Moore, and Ike Reynolds. Simeon Booker and his Jet magazine colleague, photographer Ted Gaffney, were also on board. Seated in the rear of the bus, the two journalists had a close-up view of the entire harrowing journey from Atlanta to Birmingham. "It was a frightening experience," Booker later reported, "the worst encountered in almost 20 years of journalism."

He was not exaggerating. The bus was barely out of the Atlanta terminal when the Klansmen began to make threatening remarks. "You niggers will be taken care of once you get in Alabama," one Klansman sneered. Once the bus passed the state line, the comments intensified, giving the Riders the distinct impression that something might be brewing in Anniston. Arriving at the Anniston Trailways station approximately an hour after the other Riders had pulled into the Greyhound station, Peck and the Trailways Riders looked around warily before leaving the bus. The waiting room was eerily quiet, and several whites looked away as the unwelcome visitors walked up to the lunch counter. After purchasing a few sandwiches, the Riders walked back to the bus. Later, while waiting nervously to leave, they heard an ambulance siren but didn't think much of it until the bus driver, John Olan Patterson, who had been talking to several Anniston police officers, vaulted up the steps. Flanked by eight "hoodlums," as Peck later called them, Patterson gave them the news about the Greyhound riot. "We have received word that a bus has been burned to the ground and passengers are being carried to the hospital by the carloads," he declared, with no hint of compassion or regret. "A mob is waiting for our bus and will do the same to us unless we get these niggers off the front seats." His bus wasn't going anywhere until the black Freedom Riders retreated to the back of the bus where they belonged.

After a few moments of silence, one of the Riders reminded Patterson that they were interstate passengers who had the right to sit wherever they pleased. Shaking his head in disgust, he exited the bus without a word. But one of the white "hoodlums" soon answered for him: "Niggers get back. You ain't up north. You're in Alabama, and niggers ain't nothing here." To prove his point, he suddenly lunged toward Person, punching him in the face. A second Klansman then struck Harris, who was sitting next to Person in the front section of the bus. Both black Freedom Riders adhered to Gandhian discipline and refused to fight back, but this only encouraged their attackers. Dragging the defenseless students into the aisle, the Klansmen started pummeling them with their fists and kicking them again and again. At this point Peck and Walter Bergman rushed forward from the back to object. As soon as Peck reached the front, one of the attackers turned on him, striking a blow that sent the frail, middle-aged activist reeling across two rows of seats. Within seconds Bergman, the oldest of the Freedom Riders at sixty-one, suffered a similar blow, falling to the floor with a thud. As blood spurted from their faces, both men tried to shield themselves from further attack, but the Klansmen, enraged by the white Riders' attempt to protect their "nigger" collaborators, proceeded to pound them into a bloody mass. While a pair of Klansmen lifted Peck's head, others punched him in the face until he lost consciousness. By this time Bergman was out cold on the floor, but one frenzied assailant continued to stomp on his chest. When Frances Bergman begged the Klansman to stop beating her husband, he ignored her plea and called her a "nigger lover." Fortunately, one of the other Klansmen — realizing that the defenseless Freedom Rider was about to be killed — eventually called a halt to the beating. "Don't kill him," he said coolly, making sure that no one on the bus mistook self-interested restraint for compassion.

Although Walter Bergman's motionless body blocked the aisle, several Klansmen managed to drag Person and Harris, both barely conscious, to the back of the bus, draping them over the passengers sitting in the backseat. A few seconds later, they did the same to Peck and Bergman, creating a pile of bleeding and bruised humanity that left the rest of the passengers in a momentary state of shock. Content with their brutal handiwork, the Klansmen then sat down in the middle of the bus to block any further attempts to violate the color line. At this point a black woman riding as a regular passenger begged to be let off the bus, but the Klansmen forced her to stay. "Shut up, you black bitch," one of them snarled. "Ain't nobody but whites sitting up here. And them nigger lovers . . . can just sit back there with their nigger friends."

Moments later, Patterson, who had left during the melee, returned to the bus, accompanied by a police officer. After surveying the scene, both men appeared satisfied with the restoration of Jim Crow seating arrangements. Turning toward the Klansmen, the police officer grinned and assured them that Alabama justice was on their side: "Don't worry about no lawsuits. I ain't seen a thing." The officer then exited the bus and motioned to Patterson to head out onto the highway. Realizing that there was a mob waiting on the main road to Birmingham, the driver kept to the back roads as he headed west. When none of the Klansmen objected to this detour, the Freedom Riders were puzzled but relieved, thinking that perhaps there were limits to the savagery of the segregationists after all, even in the wilds of eastern Alabama. What they did not know, of course, was that the Klansmen were simply saving them for the welcoming party already gathering in the shadows of downtown Birmingham.

During the next two hours, as the bus rolled toward Birmingham, the Klansmen continued to taunt and torment the Riders. One man brandished a pistol, a second threatened the Riders with a steel pipe, and three others served as "sentries," blocking access to the middle and front sections of the bus. As Booker recalled the scene, one of the sentries was "a pop-eyed fellow who kept taunting: 'Just tell Bobby [Kennedy] and we'll do him in, too.'" When one of the Klansmen approached Booker threateningly, the journalist nervously handed him a copy of Jet that featured an advance story on CORE's sponsorship of the Freedom Ride. Over the next few minutes, as the article was passed from Klansman to Klansman, the atmosphere became increasingly tense. "I'd like to choke all of them," one Klansman confessed, while others assured the Riders that they would get what was coming to them when they arrived in Birmingham. By the time the bus reached the outskirts of the city, Peck and the other injured Riders had regained consciousness, but since the Klansmen would not allow any of the Riders to leave their seats or talk among themselves, there was no opportunity for Peck to prepare the group for the impending onslaught. He could only hope that each Rider would be able to draw upon some combination of inner strength and past experience, some reservoir of courage and responsibility that would sustain the Freedom Ride and protect the viability and moral integrity of the nonviolent movement.

Though battered and bleeding, and barely able to walk, Peck was determined to set an example for his fellow Freedom Riders. As the designated testers at the Birmingham stop, he and Person would be the first to confront the fully assembled power of Alabama segregationists. The terror-filled ride from Atlanta was a clear indication that they could expect some measure of violence in Birmingham, but at this point Peck and the other Trailways Riders had no detailed knowledge of what had happened to the Greyhound group in Anniston two hours earlier. They thought they were prepared for the worst. In actuality, however, they had no reliable way of gauging what they were up against, no way of appreciating the full implications of challenging Alabama's segregationist institutions, and no inkling of how far Birmingham's ultra-segregationists would go to protect the sanctity of Jim Crow. This was not just the Deep South — it was Birmingham, where close collaboration between the Ku Klux Klan and law enforcement officials was a fact of life. The special agents in the Birmingham FBI field office, as well as their superiors in Washington, possessed detailed information on this collaboration and could have warned the Freedom Riders. But they chose to remain silent.

The dire consequences of the bureau's refusal to intervene were compounded by the active involvement of FBI informant Gary Thomas Rowe. In the final minutes before the Trailways group's arrival, Rowe helped ensure that the plot to "welcome" the Freedom Riders would actually be carried out. The plan called for Rowe and the other Klansmen to initiate the attack at the Greyhound station, where the first group of Freedom Riders was expected to arrive, but news of the Anniston bombing did not reach Birmingham until midafternoon, just minutes before the arrival of the Trailways bus. A frantic call from police headquarters to Rowe, who quickly spread the word, alerted the Klansmen waiting near the Greyhound station that a bus of Freedom Riders was about to arrive at the Trailways station, three blocks away. The "welcoming committee" had just enough time to regroup at the Trailways station. Years later Rowe recalled the mad rush across downtown Birmingham: "We made an astounding sight . . . men running and walking down the streets of Birmingham on Sunday afternoon carrying chains, sticks, and clubs. Everything was deserted no police officers were to be seen except one on a street corner. He stepped off and let us go by, and we barged into the bus station and took it over like an army of occupation. There were Klansmen in the waiting room, in the rest rooms, in the parking area."

By the time Peck and company arrived, the Klansmen and their police allies were all in place, armed and ready to do what had to be done to protect the Southern way of life. Police dispatchers, following the agreed-upon plan, had cleared the "target" area: For the next fifteen minutes there would be no police presence in or near the Trailways station. The only exceptions were two plainclothes detectives who were in the crowd to monitor the situation and to make sure that the Klansmen left the station before the police arrived.

Since it was Sunday, and Mother's Day, there were few bystanders, aside from a handful of news reporters who had been tipped off that something big was about to happen at the Trailways station. Despite the semisecret nature of the operation, the organizers could not resist the temptation to let the outside world catch a glimpse of Alabama manhood in action.

One of the reporters on hand was Howard K. Smith, a national correspondent for CBS News who was in Birmingham working on a television documentary titled "Who Speaks for Birmingham?". Smith and his CBS colleagues were investigating New York Times columnist Harrison Salisbury's charges that Alabama's largest city was consumed by lawlessness and racial oppression. "Every channel of communication, every medium of mutual interest, every reasoned approach, every inch of middle ground," wrote Salisbury in April 1960, "has been fragmented by the emotional dynamite of racism, reinforced by the whip, the razor, the gun, the bomb, the torch, the club, the knife, the mob, the police and many branches of the state's apparatus." After several days of interviews, Smith was still trying to decide if Salisbury's claims were exaggerated. A Louisiana native with considerable experience in the Deep South, Smith was more than intrigued when he received a Saturday night call from Dr. Edward R. Fields, the president of the ultra-conservative National States Rights Party (NSRP), an organization known to promote a virulent strain of white supremacist and anti-Semitic extremism. Identifying himself simply as "Fields," the arch segregationist urged Smith to hang around the downtown bus stations "if he wanted to see some real action."

A gun-toting Birmingham chiropractor with close ties to the infamous Georgia extremist J. B. Stoner, Fields himself had every intention of taking part in the action. Along with Stoner, who had driven over from Atlanta for the occasion, and several other NSRP stalwarts, Fields showed up at the Greyhound station on Sunday afternoon armed and ready for the bloodletting — even though Klan leader Hubert Page warned him to stay away. Page and his police accomplices were having enough trouble controlling their own forces without having to worry about Fields and his crew of professional troublemakers.

With Police Chief Jamie Moore out of the city and Connor lying low in an effort to distance himself from the impending violence, Detective Tom Cook was in charge of the operation, but Cook did not share Page's concern. When Rowe called Cook to complain that the NSRP was complicating the Klan's plans, the detective told him to relax. "You boys should work together," Cook suggested.

Connor — who spent Sunday morning at city hall, barely a stone's throw away from the Greyhound station — was probably the only man in Birmingham with the power to call the whole thing off. But he was not about to do so. Resisting the entreaties of several friends, including his Methodist pastor, John Rutland, who warned him that joining forces with the Klan was a big mistake, he cast his lot with the extremists. He knew that the welcoming party might backfire — that it could complicate the mayoral campaign of his political ally Art Hanes, that Birmingham might even become a second Little Rock, a city besieged by federal troops — but he simply could not bring himself to let the Freedom Riders off the hook. He had been waiting too long for an opportunity to confront the Yankee agitators on his own turf. It was time to let Earl Warren, the Kennedys, the Communists, and all the other meddling Southhaters know that the loyal sons of Alabama were ready to fight and die for white supremacy and states' rights. It was time for the blood to flow.

At 4:15 on Sunday afternoon, Connor got all the blood he wanted — and then some. As soon as the bus pulled into the Trailways terminal, the Klansmen on board raced down the aisle to be near the front door. Following a few parting taunts — one man screamed, "You damn Communists, why don't you go back to Russia. You're a shame to the white race" — they hustled down the steps and disappeared into the crowd. They had done their job the rest was up to their Klan brethren, several of whom were waiting expectantly in front of the terminal. The Klansmen's hurried exit was a bit unnerving, but as Peck and the other Freedom Riders peered out at the crowd there was no sign of any weapons. One by one, the Riders filed off the bus and onto the unloading platform, where they began to retrieve their luggage. Although there were several rough-looking men standing a few feet from the platform, there was no clear indication that an attack was imminent. After a few moments of hesitation, Peck and Person walked toward the white waiting room to begin testing the terminal's facilities. In his 1962 memoir, Peck recalled the intensity of the scene, especially his concern for the safety of his black colleague. "I did not want to put Person in a position of being forced to proceed if he thought the situation was too dangerous," he remembered, but "when I looked at him, he responded by saying simply, 'Let's go.'" This bravery was not born of ignorance: Person had grown up in the Deep South he had recently served sixteen days in jail for his part in the Atlanta sit-ins, and he had already been beaten up earlier in the day. Nevertheless, neither he nor Peck was fully prepared for what was about to happen.

Moments after the two Freedom Riders entered the waiting room and approached the whites-only lunch counter, one of the waiting Klansmen pointed to the cuts on Peck's face and the caked blood on his shirt and screamed out that Person, who was walking in front of Peck, deserved to die for attacking a white man. At this point, Peck tried to explain that Person was not the man who had attacked him, adding: "You'll have to kill me before you hurt him." This blatant breach of racial solidarity only served to incite the crowd of Klansmen blocking their path. After an Eastview Klansman named Gene Reeves pushed Person toward the colored waiting room, the young black Freedom Rider gamely continued walking toward the white lunch counter but was unable to sidestep a second Klansman who shoved him up against a concrete wall. Standing nearby, NSRP leader Edward Fields pointed toward Peck and yelled: "Get that son of a bitch." Several burly white men then began to pummel Person with their fists, bloodying his face and mouth and dropping him to his knees. When Peck rushed over to help Person to his feet, several Klansmen grabbed both men by the shoulders and pushed them into a dimly lit corridor leading to a loading platform. In the corridor more than a dozen whites, some armed with lead or iron pipes and others with oversized key rings, pounced on the two Riders, punching and kicking them repeatedly. Before long, the assault turned into a chaotic free-for-all with "fists and arms. flying everywhere." In the ensuing confusion, Person managed to escape. Running into the street, he staggered onto a city bus and eventually found his way to Fred Shuttlesworth's parsonage. In the meantime Peck bore the brunt of the attack, eventually losing consciousness and slumping to the floor in a pool of blood.

The fracas had been moved to the back corridor in an effort to avoid the reporters and news photographers roaming the white waiting room, but several newsmen, including Howard K. Smith, witnessed at least part of the attack. Smith, who had only been in Birmingham for a few days, could hardly believe his eyes as the rampaging Klansmen and NSRP "storm troopers" swarmed over the two Freedom Riders. But he soon discovered that this was only the beginning of one of the bloodiest afternoons in Birmingham's history.

While Peck and Person were being assaulted in the corridor, the other Riders searched for a refuge. Jerry Moore and Herman Harris avoided detection by losing themselves in the crowd and slipping away just before the assaults began. Frances Bergman, at her husband's insistence, boarded a city bus moments after their arrival, but Walter himself was unable to escape the mob's fury. Still woozy from his earlier beating, with blood still caked on his clothing, he bravely followed Peck and Person into the white waiting room.

After witnessing the initial assault on his two colleagues, he searched in vain for a policeman who could help them, but soon he too was knocked to the floor by an enraged Klansman. When Simeon Booker entered the terminal a few seconds later, he saw the bloodied and defenseless professor crawling on his hands and knees. Recoiling from the grisly scene, Booker retreated to the street, where he found a black cabdriver who agreed to whisk him and Ted Gaffney away to safety.

Others were less fortunate. Several white men attacked Ike Reynolds, kicking and stomping him before heaving his semiconscious body into a curbside trash bin. In the confusion, the mob also attacked a number of bystanders misidentified as Freedom Riders. One of the victims was actually a Klansman named L. B. Earle, who had the misfortune of coming out of the men's room at the wrong time. Attacked by fellow Klansmen who failed to recognize him, Earle suffered several deep head gashes and ended up in the hospital. Another victim of the mob, a twenty-nine-year-old black laborer named George Webb, was assaulted after he entered the baggage room with his fiancée, Mary Spicer, one of the regular passengers on the freedom bus from Atlanta. The last person to leave the bus, Spicer was unaware of the melee inside the station until she and Webb encountered a group of pipewielding rioters in the baggage area. One of the men, undercover FBI informant Gary Thomas Rowe, told Spicer to "get the hell out of here," and she escaped harm, running into the street for help. But Rowe and three others, including an NSRP member, immediately surrounded Webb and proceeded to pummel him with everything from their fists to a baseball bat. Webb fought back but was soon overwhelmed as several more white men joined in. Dozens of others looked on, some yelling, "Kill the nigger." But moments later the assault was interrupted by Red Self, one of the plainclothes detectives on the scene, who grabbed Rowe by the shoulder and told him it was time to go. "Get the boys out of here," he ordered. "I'm ready to give the signal for the police to move in."

During the allotted fifteen minutes, the violence had spread to the sidewalks and streets surrounding the Trailways station, making it difficult to get the word to all of the Klansmen and NSRP members involved in the riot. But by the time the police moved in to restore order, virtually all of the rioters had left the area. Despite Self's warning, Rowe and those attacking Webb were among the last to leave. "Goddamn it, Tom," Self finally screamed at Rowe, "I told you to get out of here! They're on the way." Rowe and

several others, however, were preoccupied with Webb and continued the attack until a news photographer snapped a picture of Rowe and the other Klansmen. As soon as the flashbulb went off, they abandoned Webb and ran after the photographer, Tommy Langston of the Birmingham Post-Herald, who made it to the station parking lot before being caught. After one man grabbed Langston's camera and smashed it to the ground, Rowe and several others, including Eastview klavern leader Hubert Page, kicked and punched him and threatened to beat him with the same pipes and baseball bats used on Webb. In the meantime, Webb ran into the loading area, where he was recaptured by a pack of Klansmen led by Gene Reeves. With the police closing in, Webb, like Langston, was released after a few final licks, though by this time both men were bleeding profusely. Stumbling into the parking lot, Webb somehow managed to find the car where his terrified fiancée and aunt had been waiting. As they drove away to safety, Langston, whose life had suddenly become intertwined with the beating of a man whom he had never met, staggered down the street to the Post-Herald building, where he collapsed into the arms of a shocked colleague. Later in the afternoon, another Post-Herald photographer returned to the scene of the assault and retrieved Langston's broken camera, discovering to his and Langston's amazement that the roll of film inside was undamaged.

The graphic picture of the Webb beating that appeared on the front page of the Post-Herald the next morning, though initially misidentified as a photograph of the attack on Peck, turned out to be one of the few pieces of documentary evidence to survive the riot. Immediately following the attack on Langston, Rowe and Page grabbed Birmingham News photographers Bud Gordon and Tom Lankford and promptly destroyed all of the unexposed film in their cameras. Neither photographer was beaten, but Clancy Lake, a reporter for WAPI radio, was not so lucky. As Rowe and two other Eastview Klansmen, Billy Holt and Ray Graves, walked toward the Greyhound station parking lot to retrieve their cars, they spied Lake sitting in the front seat of his car broadcasting an eyewitness account of the riot. Convinced that Lake had a camera and had been taking photographs of the scene at the Trailways station, the Klansmen smashed the car's windows with a blackjack, ripped the microphone from the dashboard, and dragged the reporter onto the pavement. Although Lake noticed a passing police car and screamed for help, the officer drove on, leaving him at the mercy of attackers. At one point the three men pushed him into a wall, but after Holt swung at him with a pipe and missed, Lake bolted into the Trailways station, where he was relieved to discover that a squad of police had just arrived. With the police on the scene, the gritty reporter was able to resume his broadcast via telephone, as Rowe and his companions called off the pursuit and once again headed toward their cars.

Along the way, they encountered a smiling Bobby Shelton, who congratulated them for a job well done and offered them a ride to the Greyhound parking lot in his Cadillac. Upon their arrival, the Imperial Wizard and his passengers were shocked to discover several local black men writing down the license plate numbers of the Klansmen's cars. Following a brief struggle — at least one of the overmatched blacks was in his mid-sixties — the Klansmen ripped up the pages with the incriminating numbers before heading to Rowe's house for a victory celebration. Arriving at the house around five o'clock, they stayed there only a few minutes before a phone call from Sergeant Tom Cook sent them back downtown to intercept another bus full of Freedom Riders. The Greyhound freedom bus, having been burned in Anniston, never actually arrived, but Rowe and Page had too much blood lust to return home without getting some action. Wandering into a black neighborhood on the north side of downtown, they picked a fight with a group of young blacks who gave as good as they got. The battle put one Klansman in the hospital and left Rowe with a knife wound in the neck serious enough to require immediate attention from a doctor. None of this, however, dampened the sense of triumph among the Klansmen and their police collaborators.

At a late-night meeting with Rowe, Red Self suggested that the shedding of a little blood was a small price to pay for what they had accomplished. After weeks of anticipation and careful planning, they had done exactly what they set out to do. Carried out in broad daylight, the assault on the Freedom Riders had turned a bus station into a war zone, and the Klansmen involved had come away with only minor injuries and little likelihood of criminal prosecution. In the coming days and weeks, the publication of Langston's photograph would be a source of concern for those who were identifiable as Webb's attackers — and for Rowe's FBI handlers, who were furious that one of their informants had allowed himself to be captured on film during a criminal assault. But as Self and Rowe congratulated each other in the waning hours of May 14, there was no reason to believe that anything had gone wrong. Backing up words with action, the white supremacists of the Eastview klavern and their allies had demonstrated in no uncertain terms that they were ready to use any means necessary to halt the Freedom Rides.

The late-afternoon scene at the Trailways station testified to the success of the operation. Within twenty minutes of the Freedom Riders' arrival, the mob had vanished, leaving surprisingly little evidence of the riot and few witnesses with a clear sense of what had just happened. When Peck regained consciousness a few minutes after the assault, he was alone in the corridor.

Excerpted from Freedom Riders by Raymond Arsenault. Copyright © 2005 by Raymond Arsenault. Excerpted by permission of Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


Singing With The Freedom Riders: The Music Of The Movement

BIRMINGHAM -- In a church where four little girls lost their lives, angels still seem to be singing. Their songs are not of the pain left behind, but of freedom.

The choir rose to its feet and sang:

Before I'll be a slave
I'll be buried in my grave
I'll go home to my Lord
And I'll be free.

As if a wave swept through the pews nearly everyone in the audience rose, swayed and clapped. The energy was palpable, the way Sunday at a Southern Baptist church can be. But this wasn't Sunday service, it was a special performance at the 16th Street Baptist Church (pictured below) by the Carlton Reese Memorial Choir for an audience of very special guests - the Freedom Riders.

In a city synonymous with the strife of segregation and the forces that fought so fiercely to end it, this church is a sacred place in the Civil Rights Movement legacy. Birmingham is also a place where the Freedom Riders suffered a particularly brutal beating by the Ku Klux Klan as they challenged the segregation of interstate buses there.

The violence in Birmingham became so bloody then, that the city became known as "Bombingham."

It was the latest stop along the 2011 Freedom Ride, which brought together a handful of original Freedom Riders and 40 college students from across the country and from different backgrounds to retrace the original journey through the Deep South. Each stop up until then had been wrought with emotions: guilt, sorrow, anger and hope.

I sat about a dozen rows back from where those little girls lost their lives in 1963 when a klansmen's bomb was detonated outside the church, and couldn't help but glance over at the stained glass window that once rained down in shards on the congregation.

To be in that room, in that city, was breathtaking.

And then the choir sang -- so sweet a sound.

Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around
I'm gonna keep on walking, keep on walking.

Again a wave of energy swept through the church. The Freedom Riders in attendance, now in their late 60s or 70s, swayed and a surge of difficult joy coursed through the students.

Even I was starting to feel possessed by whatever it was the choir or that place was doing to us.

I felt, for lack of a better word, empowered, and it became immediately clear how much this music meant to the movement.

There were influential ministers who preached power from the pulpits, but it was the church choirs of the Civil Rights era that gave the people a soundtrack that stirred them into the streets to stand up for their rights. The movement was filled with music, freedom songs and old gospel standbys born from the souls and spirits of black folks and our struggles.

So many of these songs also became the life-blood of the Freedom Riders, who braved heaps of brutality along interstate highways throughout the Deep South during the Freedom Rides of 1961.

"Music was just as important as learning about nonviolence," said Ernest "Rip" Patton, one of the original Freedom Riders. "Music brought us together -- we can't all talk at the same time, but we can all sing at the same time. It gives you that spiritual feeling. It was like our glue."

A couple days earlier, about five of the original Freedom Riders and the 40 students accompanying them were in Atlanta, sitting in the pews of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Sr. and his son, Martin Luther King Jr., once preached.

We sat and listened to a sermon by the younger King that played over the speakers. And then a woman's voice, a beautiful voice, rose and unfurled from the speakers and filled every recess in the place. It was a haunting song called "How Great Thou Art" -- powerful and subdued.

It was a change of pace for the students, who had by then passed the long bus rides by singing "We Shall Overcome," "This Little Light of Mine" and "The Buses Are A-Coming" over and over, even remixing some of the songs or making up raps with names of the Freedom Riders on the bus worked into their lyrics. But this was different. It had a bit more weight.

"We sang that in church every Sunday," said Samantha Williams, 23, a student at the University of Arkansas, of the song that played inside the church. "To hear it sung in that context, you almost feel guilty for singing it."

In Birmingham the choir sang, "I Don't Feel No Way Tired" -- the kind of song that could keep you keeping on no matter what.

"The music was the inspiration. It gave the people a lot of courage that they didn't think they had," said Eloise Gaffney, the choir director who joined the choir in 1962 and quickly "found a place in the movement."

"When we were talking about we ain't gonna let nobody turn me around, it kind of just fired them up. And it was Martin King that was the one that said this choir can sing them out of their seats and into the streets."

Annie B. Levison, another longtime choir member, said that people came to the church to hear the preaching and the teaching, but also the singing.

"You know how when you start singing in your church, and you know how it just catch on fire, well everybody would catch on fire, and when they get on fire and the Lord is just dwelling inside of them -- they're ready," she said. "That's what you had to do. Get them on fire. And when the fire starts burning all over, they're going to run. So, where' you going to run to? You're going to run out to the people and say lets get free. Lets get free!"

"Singing With The Freedom Riders" is one part of a series of pieces by Trymaine Lee that first ran on Black Voices:


Jim Crow Laws and Racial Segregation

Introduction: Immediately following the Civil War and adoption of the 13th Amendment, most states of the former Confederacy adopted Black Codes, laws modeled on former slave laws. These laws were intended to limit the new freedom of emancipated African Americans by restricting their movement and by forcing them into a labor economy based on low wages and debt. Vagrancy laws allowed blacks to be arrested for minor infractions. A system of penal labor known as convict leasing was established at this time. Black men convicted for vagrancy would be used as unpaid laborers, and thus effectively re-enslaved.

The Black Codes outraged public opinion in the North and resulted in Congress placing the former Confederate states under Army occupation during Reconstruction. Nevertheless, many laws restricting the freedom of African Americans remained on the books for years. The Black Codes laid the foundation for the system of laws and customs supporting a system of white supremacy that would be known as Jim Crow.

The majority of states and local communities passed “Jim Crow” laws that mandated “separate but equal” status for African Americans. Jim Crow Laws were statutes and ordinances established between 1874 and 1975 to separate the white and black races in the American South. In theory, it was to create “separate but equal” treatment, but in practice Jim Crow Laws condemned black citizens to inferior treatment and facilities. Education was segregated as were public facilities such as hotels and restaurants under Jim Crow Laws. In reality, Jim Crow laws led to treatment and accommodations that were almost always inferior to those provided to white Americans.

The most important Jim Crow laws required that public schools, public facilities, e.g., water fountains, toilets, and public transportation, like trains and buses, have separate facilities for whites and blacks. These laws meant that black people were legally required to:

• attend separate schools and churches
• use public bathrooms marked “for colored only”
• eat in a separate section of a restaurant
• sit in the rear of a bus

Background: The term “Jim Crow” originally referred to a black character in an old song, and was the name of a popular dance in the 1820s. Around 1828, a minstrel show performer named Thomas “Daddy” Rice developed a routine in which he blacked his face, sang and danced in imitation of an old black man in ragged clothes. By the early 1830s, Rice’s character became tremendously popular, and eventually gave its name to a stereotypical negative view of African Americans as uneducated, shiftless, and dishonest.

Beginning in the 1880s, the term Jim Crow was used as a reference to practices, laws or institutions related to the physical separation of black people from white people. Jim Crow laws in various states required the segregation of races in such common areas as restaurants and theaters. The “separate but equal” standard established by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Fergurson (1896) supported racial segregation for public facilities across the nation.

A Montgomery, Alabama ordinance compelled black residents to take seats apart from whites on municipal buses. At the time, the “separate but equal” standard applied, but the actual separation practiced by the Montgomery City Lines was hardly equal. Montgomery bus operators were supposed to separate their coaches into two sections: whites up front and blacks in back. As more whites boarded, the white section was assumed to extend toward the back. On paper, the bus company’s policy was that the middle of the bus became the limit if all the seats farther back were occupied. Nevertheless, that was not the everyday reality. During the early 1950s, a white person never had to stand on a Montgomery bus. In addition, it frequently occurred that blacks boarding the bus were forced to stand in the back if all seats were taken there, even if seats were available in the white section.

The Beginning of the End of Segregation

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Louise Parks (February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005), a resident of Montgomery, Alabama refused to obey bus driver James Blake’s demand that she relinquish her seat to a white man. She was arrested, fingerprinted, and incarcerated. When Parks agreed to have her case contested, it became a cause célèbre in the fight against Jim Crow laws. Her trial for this act of civil disobedience triggered the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the largest and most successful mass movements against racial segregation in history, and launched Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the organizers of the boycott, to the forefront of the civil rights movement that fostered peaceful protests to Jim Crow laws.

During the early 1960s numerous civil rights demonstrations and protests were held, particularly in the south. On February 1, 1960, in a Woolworth department store in Greensboro, N.C, four black freshmen from North Carolina A & T College asked to be served at the store’s segregated lunch counter. The manager refused, and the young men remained seated until closing time. The next day, the protesters returned with 15 other students, and the third day with 300. Before long the idea of nonviolent sit-in protests spread across the country.

Building on the success of the “sit-ins,” another type of protest was planned using “Freedom Riders.” The Freedom Riders were a volunteer group of activists: men and women, black and white (many from university and college campuses) who roade interstate buses into the deep south to challenge the region’s non-compliance with U.S. Supreme Court decisions (Morgan v. Virginia and Boynton v. Virginia) that prohibited segregation in all interstate public transportation facilities. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) sponsored most Freedom Rides, but some were also organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

These and other civil rights demonstrations moved President John F. Kennedy to send to Congress a civil rights bill on June 19, 1963. The proposed legislation offered federal protection to African Americans seeking to vote, to shop, to eat out, and to be educated on equal terms.

To capitalize on the growing public support for the civil rights movement and to put pressure Congress to adopt civil rights legislation, a coalition of the major civil rights groups was formed to plan and organize a large national demonstration in the nation’s capital. The hope was to enlist a hundred thousand people to come to attend a March on Washington DC.

Eventually, the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act made racial segregation and discrimination illegal. The impact of the long history of Jim Crow, however, continues to be felt and assessed in the United States.

For further reading:

Blackmon, D. A. (2008), Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Brown, N. L. M., & Stentiford, B. M. (Eds). (2014). Jim Crow: A Historical Encyclopedia of the American Mosaic. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood.

Editorial Board(2018). Documenting ‘Slavery by Another Name’ in Texas. An African-American burial ground recently unearthed in Texas reveals details about an ugly chapter in the history of the American South. The New York Times, April 13, 2018. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/13/opinion/texas-slavery-african-american-graveyard.html

Virginia Writers Project. (1940) The Negro in Virginia. New York: Hastings House. (See especially Chapter XXII, Black Laws).

Woodward, C. V. (1966). The Strange Career of Jim Crow. (2nd rev. ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Hansan, J.E. (2011). Jim Crow laws and racial segregation. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/eras/civil-war-reconstruction/jim-crow-laws-andracial-segregation/

Resources related to this topic may be found in the Social Welfare History Image Portal.

33 Replies to &ldquoJim Crow Laws and Racial Segregation&rdquo

How did Jim Crow laws affect black business owners? Were they allowed to operate in white areas? Also Nativ4e-Americans. Could they only own businesses in the reservations during Jim Crow period? Writing a book. N4eed info urgently. Thank you so much.

This is an important question and a much more involved question than can be answered here. Jim Crow laws had a great impact of economic activity in African American communities. You might start researching the history of African American businesses and black entrepreneurs during Jim Crow by looking at the bibliography in this Wikipedia article, this Smithsonian piece, or this story posted by the Harvard Business School. You might investigate the National Negro Business League (founded in 1900) too. The work of Juliet E. K. Walker may be of interest to you.

Thank you so much for the information you provided. It helped me a great deal. I love reading these pieces of such black spirit in such difficult times. To know that there were black entrepreneurs that rose to great heights despite all the obstacles is very inspiring.

This information should be reposted to ensure it is never lost. So much history can be forgotten if it isn’t kept where it can be seen. All this needs to be heard. I will share this link as far as my reach can go. Thank You.

Why were the Jim Crow Laws legal? Please help!

Jim Crow laws were legal because they were laws passed by state legislatures and communities that were empowered to make laws. They were legal because they were the law until the courts declared them unconstitutional.

I suspect fear may be an indicator. Consider, you have these humans, angry humans that were once treated like animals and were slaves. Then, they gain freedom from their indenture. While it was completely racist at the time, Jim Crow laws went into effect to “suppress” good black people from ever really getting out from under the thumb of the white man – even if not a slave.

The whole affair is distasteful overall.

The way I see it, you have a human heart ? You must be a human, part of the HUMAN RACE. There is no other distinction nor reason to downplay others.

This made me cry. I see how black people still see whites as racists now. I didn’t realize this happened so recent in history.

As mentioned, racial segregation was required in southern states in laws enacted thru 1890. The north did not have such laws, though trains from New York to the south had segregated seating even as they left New York. Most fine restaurant and hotels in the north would not serve blacks, even though it wasn’t required by law. And I don’t believe air travel was ever segregated, even purely within the south, as the laws were developed before air travel and not many blacks (or even whites) could afford air travel.

Was this just in the south? How about the north, or the west?

As described in the article the creation of “Jim Crow” legislation and policies were a product of the Southern states defeated in the Civil War. While it is possible there were similar practices of discrimination in isolation on minorities in other states, such as Native Americans and recent immigrants,those practices do not fit the definition of Jim Crow racial discrimination. For more information, I suggest you search the files of BlackPast or Google “history of racial discrimination”. Best wishes, Jack Hansan

im in school and have to do the jim crow laws which i think is really sad

Jim Crow laws are a very sad part of American history. Good luck with your studies.

My best suggestion is to “Google” the subject and do the research for what you are seeking. Best wishes, JEH

Dear Taniyah Davis: The SWH Project is not the source for what you requested. My suggestion is you Google the matter you want to explore further and follow the leads provided. Regards, Jack Hansan

Last night I watched the movie “Race” about Jesse Owens. Early in the movie, there is a scene showing Owens boarding a bus in Cleveland, Ohio and sitting in the segregated section at the rear of the bus. I know that this was the practice of bus and railroad companies serving southern states, but did northern intercity carriers also segregate accommodations during the 1930s? I tried, unsuccessfully, researching this on the Internet.

Thanks, in advance, for any information you can provide.

Dear David: Like you, I did not realize there was such segregation policies in effect in Northern States. I will look into it when I have the opportunity. In the meantime, you might find some more information on the web site “www.blackpast.org.” Good hunting, Jack Hansan

WF: The best answer is to Google MLA style book. Jack Hansan

[…] overruled because of that. One of these cases introduced the ‘separate but equal’ policy, and racial segregation began. Black people, and all colored people, could not share many facilities, like schools, water […]

this is a very good source for jim crow laws especially for school research projects


Bettman Archives, Getty Images

In 1961, a group of civil rights activists known as the Freedom Riders began a desegregation campaign. The interracial group rode together on interstate buses headed south from Washington, D.C., and patronized the bus stations along the way, to test the enforcement of Supreme Court decisions that prohibited discrimination in interstate passenger travel. Their efforts were unpopular with white Southerners who supported segregation. The group encountered early violence in South Carolina but continued their trip toward the planned destination of New Orleans.

On Mother's Day, May 14, 1961, a Greyhound bus carrying Freedom Riders arrived at the Anniston, Alabama, bus station shortly after 1:00 pm to find the building locked shut. Led by Ku Klux Klan leader William Chapel, a mob of 50 men armed with pipes, chains, and bats, smashed windows, slashed tires, and dented the sides of the Riders' bus. Though warned hours earlier that a mob had gathered at the station, local police did not arrive until after the assault had begun.

Once the attack subsided, police pretended to escort the crippled bus to safety, but instead abandoned it at the Anniston city limits. Soon after the police departed, another armed white mob surrounded the bus and began breaking windows. The Freedom Riders refused to exit the vehicle but received no aid from two watching highway patrolmen. When a member of the mob tossed a firebomb through a broken bus window, others in the mob attempted to trap the passengers inside the burning vehicle by barricading the door. They fled when the fuel tank began to explode. The Riders were able to escape the ensuing flames and smoke through the bus windows and main door, only to be attacked and beaten by the mob outside.

After police finally dispersed their attackers, the Freedom Riders received limited medical care. They were soon evacuated from Anniston in a convoy organized by Birmingham Civil Rights leader, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth.


Watch the video: The Heinous 1961 KKK Attack on the Freedom Riders (June 2022).


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