US CIVIL RIGHTS: FREEDOM RIDES
Another opportunity for SNCC activists to revive the flagging* spirit of student militancy came a few months later when southern whites attacked a group of freedom riders who were traveling through the south and attempting to use segregated eating facilities at southern bus terminals. The idea of the freedom ride had been conceived by CORE as a test of the jail-no bail idea and as a demonstration of the effectiveness of nonviolent direct action by disciplined adherents. Since CORE's* founding in World War II, it had been the organization most closely associated with the use of nonviolent direct action to achieve civil rights goals, and in 1947 it had attempted a "journey of reconciliation" similar to the later freedom rides. But until the outbreak of the student sit-ins in 1960, CORE had attracted little support among southern blacks for its Gandhian approach.
CORE selected the thirteen volunteers for the first freedom ride, most of whom came from its own members; but two of the seven blacks chosen were students who had been active in the sit-in movement: John Lewis* of Nashville and Henry Thomas, Howard University's representative to SNCC. Although both students had grown up in large families in the rural South, Lewis came from a stable home environment and was intensely religious, whereas Thomas was a self-described rebel raised in insecure circumstances by a difficult stepfather. Thomas worked on road gangs and in cotton fields before entering Howard on a scholarship. He recalled that most of the boys with whom he grew up had gone to jail before they were adults — "they did their rebelling all at once. I guess I did mine in small bits all along."
The first freedom riders left Washington on May 4 in two buses — with reporters on board to assure press coverage — and traveled peacefully through Virginia and North Carolina before encountering violence. On May 9 a group of whites assaulted Lewis and another rider as they attempted to enter the white waiting room at the Rock Hill bus terminal. Neither was seriously injured, and after the arrival of police the freedom riders were able to continue their journey. The next day, Thomas and Jim Peck, a white CORE veteran, were arrested in Winnsboro, South Carolina and charged with trespassing* after they entered the white lunchroom together. In Georgia, the freedom riders used terminal facilities in several communities without incident, and when they arrived in Atlanta, they were welcomed by a large group of students, including Ed King of SNCL. After resuming their trip, the freedom riders entered Anniston, Alabama, where a mob attacked one of the two buses, breaking windows and slashing tires before police arrived. When the bus continued its journey, white men in cars followed and forced the bus to stop outside of Anniston. The pursuers then hurled a smoke bomb inside, and the freedom riders fled the vehicle into the hands of the waiting group of angry whites. As the bus burst into flames, the mob beat up the riders before police again arrived belatedly*. Soon afterward the other bus carrying freedom riders reached Anniston. A group of whites entered it and forced the riders to the rear, beating those who resisted.
The freedom riders regrouped and continued on to Birmingham, expecting further trouble since they had heard rumors that a white mob would be waiting for them. A large crowd of whites were present when their bus entered the Birmingham terminal, and local police were conspicuously absent for a fifteen-minute period while a group of white men assaulted the freedom riders as they emerged from the bus. Peck was seriously injured, requiring fifty stitches to close the gashes* in his head. After this incident, no bus driver could be found to take the riders to Montgomery and the protesters decided to end the freedom ride and fly to New Orleans for a rally on May 17, the seventh anniversary of the Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education decision.
Source: In Struggle, SNCC and the Black awakening of the 1960s by Clayborne Carson, Harvard UP, 1981, pp. 33/34
*Watch John Lewis' Speech at the 1963 March on Washington
* flagging - nachlassend
* CORE - The Congress of Racial Equality
* John Lewis - In 1960, Lewis joined the Freedom Riders. He was one of the 13 original Freedom Riders. There were seven whites and six blacks who were determined to ride from Washington, DC, to New Orleans in an integrated fashion. At that time, several states of the old Confederacy still enforced laws prohibiting black and white riders from sitting next to each other on public transportation. The Freedom Ride, originated by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and revived by Farmer and CORE, was initiated to pressure the federal government to enforce the Supreme Court decision in Boynton v. Virginia (1960) that declared segregated interstate bus travel to be unconstitutional.
* trespassing - widerrechtliches Betreten
* belatedly - verspätet
* gashes - Wunden
1. What and how did CORE want to achieve by organizing freedom rides?
2. What experiences did the protesters have on the first freedom ride from Washington, DC, to Birmingham?
3. What goals did the three civil rights groups of CORE, SNCC and SNCL want to achieve? You may consult the internet.
4. What did the case Brown vs. Board of Education mean for the civil rights movement?
5. "Busing" was meant to accomplish eqality among black and white high school students. Explain what "busing" means and say if it was an effective means.