Saturday, January 08, 2011
8334: Freedom Riders Ride On.
From The Los Angeles Times…
Taking a trip into history with the Freedom Riders
A PBS documentary is helping to renew interest in the civil rights campaign.
By Sandy Banks
Helen Singleton became a Freedom Rider because of her mother, and her childhood memories of family trips every summer in the 1940s from Philadelphia to her grandparents’ farm in Virginia.
“Mother would be up all night over a hot stove, cooking chicken, potato salad, rolls” to sustain eight children over a 14-hour trip along back roads where every restaurant, market and hotel was “whites only.”
“We could feel her exhaustion and the tension in the car,” Singleton recalled. “And when we got there, there was always some incident — stores we couldn’t go in because it’s not the right day for blacks to shop.… It marred the joy of our summer vacations. I carried that with me for a long time.”
For nigh on 20 years, in fact, she carried that memory of second-class citizenship. Then in 1961, Singleton and her husband, Robert, joined hundreds of college students — black and white, from every region of the country — on “freedom rides” through the Deep South.
The bus rides began in Washington, D.C., with a small group of civil rights activists. Seven were black and six were white. They boarded Greyhound buses in interracial pairs, shared seats and mingled in terminals at each stop.
It was a blatant challenge to Southern codes that mandated racial separatism. The U.S. Supreme Court had declared that segregation was unlawful in interstate travel, but federal officials had refused to enforce that precedent, fearful of political backlash.
The ride from D.C. to New Orleans was supposed to take 14 days. But in Alabama, jeering, violent mobs of whites firebombed the buses and attacked the riders as local law enforcement officers looked on. The wounded activists were forced to abandon their plan.
A group of Nashville college students stepped in, though, and that sparked a national swell of support on college campuses around the country.
In Los Angeles, 17 students — 10 white and seven black — traveled east as Freedom Riders. As head of UCLA’s chapter of the NAACP, Robert Singleton was in charge of recruitment.
“I had the names of 42 people,” he said. “But most of them got turned down by their parents. It was on the news back then every night — the beatings, the mobs, the fires.” He got his bus-full, and they flew to New Orleans, then boarded a train for Jackson, Miss.
The Freedom Ride movement tends to get short shrift in history books. There was no single big-name leader, no symbolic murdered martyr. It was an exercise in courage and cooperation by young people with nothing personal to gain and little in their backgrounds in common.
“We had white kids from wealthy families and black students whose moms and dads had migrated up from the South,” recalled Singleton, now a professor of economics at Loyola Marymount University. “Until then, we didn’t know what we could do. We came back from there empowered.”
Read the full story here.