State of Alabama to commemorate 60th anniversary of the Freedom Rides in Montgomery
The State of Alabama will commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Rides — a series of political protests against segregation in 1961 — in Montgomery, known as the birthplace of the civil rights movement..
Special programming, including the unveiling of a restored 1958 Greyhound Bus, will be held in Alabama’s capital city on Tuesday, May 4. This event is presented by the Alabama Historical Commission (AHC) and the Freedom Rides Museum in Montgomery, and the bus will become a permanent part of the museum’s collection and a mobile extension of the museum’s exhibits.
“As we celebrate the arrival of the restored Greyhound Bus and its symbolic representation of the courage of the Freedom Riders, we also commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Rides and their impact on equal rights for all Americans,” said AHC Chairman Eddie Griffith.
On May 4, 1961, a multiracial group of activists, practicing nonviolent protest and calling themselves Freedom Riders, left Washington, D.C. heading to New Orleans to protest segregated bus terminals. Freedom Riders sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) were attacked in Anniston and Birmingham, Alabama, prompting the Kennedy administration to intervene and fly them on to New Orleans, ending the CORE segment of the Rides.
Days later, a multiracial group from the Nashville Student Movement came to Alabama to protest and demonstrate the power of nonviolent protests to counter mob violence. On May 20, a group of 22 students were attacked at the historic Montgomery Greyhound Bus Station by a mob wielding makeshift weapons such as bats, chains, lead pipes and bricks. The violence and arrests continued over the next several months as more Freedom Riders traveled throughout the South, and in the fall of 1961, under pressure from the Kennedy administration, the Interstate Commerce Commission issued regulations prohibiting segregation in interstate transit terminals.
“Montgomery encourages its visitors to find hope, strength and healing, by physically walking the path of those who came and fought for change before us,” stated Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce senior vice president Dawn Hathcock.
The bus will arrive at the Freedom Rides Museum on Tuesday as part of a commemorative ceremony that will begin at 10:00 a.m. In addition to the unveiling, the program will also feature an appearance by Dr. Bernard Lafayette Jr, one of the 22 students attacked in Montgomery 60 years ago, along with representatives from other sites in the City of Montgomery that played a role in the Freedom Rides.
“We are thrilled that this vintage Greyhound bus will become a permanent part of the Freedom Rides Museum collection and a mobile extension of the museum’s exhibits,” added Hathcock. “This will be an excellent addition to our portfolio of thought-provoking civil rights experiences which are open to the public year-round and continue to serve as a place for reflection on this turbulent time in America’s history.”
The bus, which was donated by the Greyhound Bus Museum in Hibbing, MN, features the original color scheme from the 1950s and 1960s, historic seats, luggage compartment and windows along with updated features like power steering, air conditioning and heat. This event is part of the AHC’s yearlong commemoration of the Freedom Rides with the theme: “Retracing the Journey. Passing the Torch.”
It also marks the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Freedom Rides Museum in Montgomery. The museum is housed in the historic Greyhound Bus Station where the Freedom Riders arrived here on their journey for justice.
“The Freedom Rides Museum is an integral part of this important story,” commented Lisa D. Jones, AHC executive director and State Historic Preservation Officer. “History happened here. Preserving this place helps bring to life a critical part of the civil rights story, and the role Montgomery and the state of Alabama played in it.”
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn