On May 4th 1961, a group of 13 people launched a bus trip through the American south to protest the inequality of black people.
Seven black and six white people left Washington, D.C., on two public buses bound for the Deep South. Their goal was to test the Supreme Court's ruling in Boynton v. Virginia (1960), that stated segregation in interstate bus and rail stations was unconstitutional.
At this time separate white and colored toilets and dining rooms had to be used. The CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) felt travelers had the right to use whatever facilities they choose, and sit wherever they wish.
On May 4, CORE Director James Farmer lead 13 Freedom Riders (7 Black, 6 white) out of Washington on Greyhound and Trailways buses. The plan was to ride through Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. The final destination was New Orleans, Louisiana. Most of the Riders were in their 40s and 50s — and two were young students. They did not experience much trouble as they traveled through Virginia and North Carolina, but John Lewis, Al Bigelow, and Genevieve Hughes were beaten in Rock Hill, SC, and some of the Riders were arrested in Charlotte North Carolina, and Winnsboro South Carolina.
The Riders crossed Georgia — Augusta - Athens - Atlanta — without any major problem, but in Alabama and Mississippi, segregationist politicians called the Freedom Ride a political opportunity, railing against integration, “race-mixers,” “Communist-plots,” the Supreme Court, and the Federal government.
Sadly, the riders were met with obstacles along the way. The riders were met with violence when they stopped. The African American men and women were badly beaten. Unfortunately, with the cooperation of the cops, on May 15 (Mothers Day), a mob of more than 100 Klansmen ambushed the Riders in Anniston, Alabama - attacking the Greyhound bus, smashing the windows, and slashing the tires. The bus tried to get away, but the attackers followed them, and set fire to the bus just outside of town.
Eventually, the pictures of what the angry white mobs had done hit newspapers all over the country and the national guard was called in to help protect the riders. This national attention helped the cause of the Freedom Riders.
This helped to end some discrimination of blacks in the south by bringing awareness to the problem, and getting rid of “whites only” areas. Today, we continue to work toward equality for all people, and the Freedom Riders helped to bring about the awareness.
Today, we have groups like “Black Lives Matter” that are trying to show that equality is still an issue.