The 1960’s was time of extreme racial inequality. Despite progressions made by groups/organizations like the NAACP through several successful court cases, in the Deep South, there was little hope for desegregation. On a mission to test the recently passed laws desegregating interstate bus travel, civil rights activists set on what would become known as “Freedom Rides.”

On May 14, 1961, a group of 13 civil rights activists, both black and white, boarded a bus heading for the Deep South. The group was organized by the Coalition of Racial Equality (CORE) and departed from Washington D.C. Along their journey passengers, known as “Freedom Riders” tried to integrate terminal facilities. African American patrons would try to eat at the “whites-only” lunch counters and use their restrooms while the White riders tried to do the same for the African American facilities.  This was not the first time something like this was tried. In 1947 , CORE also organized the Journey of Reconciliation, designed to test  Morgan v. Virginia, the 1946 Supreme Court decision outlawing segregated bus seating.

Along the way, riders encountered tremendous violence from mobs of angry white citizens. Not only was the bus itself hit with bats and pipes, but the tires were also slashed all the while the patrons of the bus were being insulted by the mob. Eventually, after law enforcement intervened, the bus was able to move on towards Birmingham. Due to the previously incurred flat tire the bus had to stop which only made things worse. The angry mob, who had followed the bus, now has set the bus on fire and the passengers had to depart the bus.  

Only after federal intervention were injured bus patrons taken to the local hospital. These rider made their way in their fight as this incident prompted a federal investigation. For months to come, many activists would take on Freedom Rides in order to fight racial injustice. Four months after it all started, in September of 1961, the Interstate Commerce Commission banned segregation in buses and train stations across the nation.

Hilton, Mark. Greyhound Bus Station Protest, May 14,1961. The Historical Marker Database. August 06, 2017. Accessed August 14, 2017.

Freedom Rides. History. Accessed August 14, 2017.