Freedom Riders' Campaign on Route 40
The segregation of American citizens based on race plagued restaurants throughout the United States. Many diners and inns would refuse to serve African Americans solely based on the color of their skin; even the law supported the segregation of American citizens. As John F. Kennedy attempted to reach out to African nations, in order to retaliate against the spread of communism in the early 1960’s, diplomats of these nations were consistently turned away from entry to segregated hotels and restaurants because of their skin color. In fear of losing diplomatic relationships due to the inhospitality, Kennedy appealed to Harford and Cecil County restaurants along Route 40. These restaurants would now serve African diplomats, but African American citizens would continue to endure racial segregation. This change in policy spurred CORE, or the Congress of Racial Equality, to create the Freedom Riders. The Freedom Riders began as a group of thirteen people, seven African Americans and six whites, which grew to a total of more than 400 volunteers who aimed to expose and change the treatment suffered by African Americans in restaurants along Route 40. The Freedom Riders left Washington D.C. on May 4, 1961, riding a Greyhound bus, and prepared to face arrest with the hope of ending racial segregation in American restaurants.
Backstory and Context
African American college students already proved, in their own way, that racial segregation was not dead, as they dressed as both African American diplomats, and were treated with respect in segregated restaurants, and American citizens, to be then treated less than mongrels, but CORE wanted more than simple exposure. By creating the Freedom Riders, CORE sought to dismantle racial segregation in the United States.
CORE designed a brochure that details their mission, their plan, and the destinations of their demonstrations. As the Freedom Riders, and those sympathetic to them, strive for desegregation, participants are to give their business to desegregated restaurants, boycott segregated restaurants, but most importantly Freedom Riders are to carry out non-violent “sit-in” demonstrations. The brochure details that Freedom Riders must walk into segregated restaurants, sit down, and remain there until either the trespassing law is read to them and they do not wish to be arrested or they are arrested. During the entirety of the demonstration, the Freedom Riders must remain non-violent despite any violence or obscene slurs directed towards them, which, unfortunately, was a frequent occurrence during demonstrations.
One such demonstration led to police involvement at the Aberdeen Restaurant in Harford County, Maryland. As Freedom Riders began their demonstration within the restaurant, a mob of locals swarmed the Freedom Riders; this mob totaled one hundred people, all against the Freedom Riders and their attempts to end segregation. As the mob threatened the demonstrators with vile obscenities, the police were forced to disperse the enraged mob. Throughout Maryland’s Route 40 demonstrations, Freedom Riders faced numerous antagonists, many resulting in the arrests of demonstrators. The first arrests occurred at Maryland’s Double T Diner, leaving six demonstrators in jail, each with $103 bail. The amount of arrests made and the violence experienced during the Freedom Riders’ demonstrations would only grow more intense as they traveled towards the Deep South of America.
Despite the treatment the Freedom Riders were forced to endure by violent fellow Americans, CORE and the Freedom Riders managed to prove that non-violent demonstrations do create results and managed to fully desegregate restaurants in 1964, a luxury that every American citizen currently enjoys daily. For 56 years Americans of any race are able to freely choose a restaurant and be served regardless of their race, and these individuals are supported by American law.
Dixon, Mike. Freedom Riders helped end segregation in Cecil County, Cecil Whig. September 28th 2013. Accessed May 7th 2020. https://www.cecildaily.com/our_cecil/freedom-riders-helped-end-segregation-in-cecil-county/article_49e6c6db-b320-5b34-9d84-9c4525172913.html.
Holmes, Marian Smith. The Freedom Riders, Then and Now, Smithsonian Magazine. February 1st 2009. Accessed May 7th 2020. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-freedom-riders-then-and-now-45351758/.
Editors, History.com. Freedom Riders, History. February 2nd 2010. Accessed May 7th 2020. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/freedom-rides.