Freedom Riders 50th anniversary celebrated

May 9, 2011 at 8:21 PM
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CHARLOTTE, N.C., May 9 (UPI) -- Storytelling, a documentary screening and a route retracing will be part of a "Freedom Riders" 50th anniversary program in Charlotte, N.C., organizers say.

The Levine Museum of the New South and the First United Presbyterian Church in Charlotte announced a Monday pre-screening of a PBS documentary titled "Freedom Riders," with recollections and stories by former riders and others connected with them, The Charlotte Observer reported.

"With the Freedom Rides, there was a beginning and an end," original Rider Charles Person of Atlanta said. "We started in May. And by December, the 'White' and 'Colored' signs had come down. Most of the other campaigns during the movement needed negotiation."

New bus riders comprised of college students will pull into Charlotte and retrace the route of the original riders, their reactions and thoughts captured by a PBS film crew as part of the national commemoration.

On May 4, 1961, 13 young Americans -- seven black and six white, most of them students, some members of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee -- climbed into two buses and participated in a test of the U.S. Supreme Court's declaration that segregation on public buses and rail stations was unconstitutional.

The ride, which was sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality, started out in Washington, headed south through Virginia and into North Carolina, where trouble began when they hit Charlotte.

Some were jailed, others were attacked and beaten. The farther South the ride went, the worse the violence became.

One rider, Hank Thomas, who was arrested in Winnsboro, S.C. for using a "white only" bathroom was taken out of his cell in the middle of the night and driven by his jailer to a bus station.

"We went to the station, it looked closed, but there was a huge crowd of men there," Thomas said.

Thomas ran for it and was picked up by a black minister who drove him to safety. Thomas says he's going back to Winnsboro this summer.

"I'm going to go to the police station and relate to them what happened that night, and see if there's anything they'd like to say to me in the way of an apology," he said.

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