50 Years Later, College Students Take a Ride For Freedom

May 9, 2011  |  

By Charlotte Young

The sacrifices that countless men and women made five decades ago in the name of civil rights has not been forgotten among today’s youth. In fact, the youth are excited to commemorate and follow in the steps of their parents and grandparents by participating in an eight-day journey from Washington, D.C. to the South—the same journey that a group of young activists, known as the Freedom Riders, embarked on.

The first Freedom Ride started on May 4, 1961. They were organized to observe whether southern states were enforcing integration on interstate transportation, as mandated by the 1960 Supreme Court decision Boynton vs. Virginia. Brave riders traveled on public interstate buses throughout the South on various attempts to demonstrate for equal rights. Riders often found themselves beaten and jailed by angry mobs protesting their demonstration.

Almost 1,400 college students vied for the chance to join some of the original participants in retracing the route of the riders, but only 40 were chosen. Charles Reed Jr. is one of those students participating. The 21-year-old business administration major at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg is skipping his college graduation ceremony to participate.

“What the Freedom Rides did 50 years ago paved the way for what I have today as an African-American,” Reed told the Associated Press.

The journey began Friday as the 40 students met the original Freedom Riders at the Newseum in D.C. The re-enactment of the journey coincides with the new documentary, “Freedom Riders,” which is set to air on May 16th on PBS. During the bus ride, the PBS documentary was shown and the group sang songs together, such as “Oh Freedom.”

“We never gave in,” said Georgia U.S. Representative John Lewis, one of the young organizers of Freedom Rides from Nashville, Tenn.

“We kept the faith, and it’s important for the stories to be told over and over again so future generations and especially these young people that are traveling will learn that in a matter of a short time, we brought down those signs,” he said.

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