The Congress On Racial Equality (CORE) decided to test the impact of Boynton by traveling by bus through the South and insisting on integrated busses and facilities.
Thirteen volunteers came forward to integrate the interstate bus terminals of the South. They ranged in age from early twenties to over sixty. It was a racially mixed group, of course, with seven black males, three white women and three white men. Those volunteers became known as the Freedom Riders. Among the Freedom Riders was current Georgia Congressman John Lewis.
The Freedom Riders were given training in non-violence as advocated by Dr. King. On May 4, 1961, they set out to integrate public transportation facilities in the South. A map of the route taken by the Freedom Riders is here.
It took a great deal of courage to volunteer to be a Freedom Rider. Violations of the social codes of the Deep South tended to be swiftly and violently punished. The Freedom Riders were well aware of that fact but chose to participate anyway. They were willing to risk their own safety in the hopes of vindicating the principle of the supremacy of law and justice.
The Freedom Riders divided into two groups, one on Trailways and one on Greyhound. That sat in various parts of the bus, sometimes with whites in the back and sometimes with blacks in the front. Sometimes blacks and whites would sit together. All of those arrangements, of course, violated the rigorously enforced social custom of the Jim Crow South.
Dwight provides a link to the map of the route taken by the Freedom Riders. In South Carolina, one Rider was beaten. In Anniston, Alabama, one bus was burned to the ground and its Freedom Riders sent to the hospital. The Freedom Riders on teh other bus were savagely beaten and tossed unconscious in the back. In Birmingham, Alabama, theose same Riders were met by teh KKK, who had an agreement with the local police that they would be allowed 15 minutes to "handle" the Freedom Riders before the authorities would step in:
Charles Person and Jim Peck, the latter�s face and shirt caked with blood, stepped first from the bus to the landing. As the designated testers for Birmingham, they stood quietly for a moment, surveying the avenues of escape that appeared little more promising than the terminal itself. Peck� glanced at his partner for a sign of intent. �Lets go,� Person said simply, heading slowly for the white waiting room as planned. Peck fell in behind him. Walter Bergman and some of the others followed�
On their approach, a confused Klansman muttered that they should kill the Negro, Person, because he must have hurt the obviously wounded white man, Peck, but as they came forward Peck said they should not hurt Person. This gesture of cross-racial friendship ignited the crowd�s rage, and the Klansman roughly shoved Person back toward the Negro waiting room. When he turned and tried to walk through them once more, a Klansman shoved him sideways against a concrete wall. Others came up behind him. �Hit him,� someone shouted, and a Klansman obliged with a fist to Person�s face. Person rose with a bloodied mouth, only to be hit again. This time he fell back into the arms of a Klansman, who held him to receive a third blow, after which he fell to his knees. Peck moved to help him up and was flattened by a rain of five or six punches. Then about a dozen Klansmen surrounded the two men and pummeled them with kicks, pipes, and object that looked � like heavy key rings.
ASIDE: The KKK is doing just fine today. About 15 minutes' drive from my home is this local mechanic, whose business is spelled "Kuntry Kar Kare". 12000 Highway 146, Texas City TX, 281-339-1301. Business such as these are the intended targets of the GOP Southern Strategy.
The KKK left their mark on the Freedom Riders - see this photo of Jim Peck :
Jim Peck was a middle aged white man. He was the heir to the Peck & Peck clothing fortune. He had attended Harvard University. He had nothing to gain, personally, from the integration of Southern bus terminals. He chose to be a Freedom Rider out of pure principle.
While at the hospital, a reporter asked Jim Peck about his future plans and whether the Freedom Rides had been worth the cost. In an act of almost unfathomable courage, Jim Peck replied:
"The going is getting rougher, but I�ll be on that bus tomorrow headed for Montgomery."
That statement exemplifies the courage and valor of the Freedom Riders. The Freedom Riders had been attacked in South Carolina. Dr. King had warned them that they would not make it through Alabama. Jim Peck and his friends had been beaten with fists, pipes, metal rings and kicks. Walter Bergman, a retired professor, had been stomped unconscious in front of his wife. Peck�s head, face and mouth were bloody and broken. His friends had been attacked and a bus had been burned to the ground. The Freedom Riders had proved their courage but had not completed their journey. Jim Peck, regardless of his injuries or the risk was prepared to face the mobs the next day in the pursuit of freedom and justice for others. That is nothing short of heroic.
Dwight closes his post with a link to an online full account of the Freedom Riders. His post has extensive quotes from Taylor Branch's book, Parting the Waters, America In The King Years 1954-63 which is absolute required reading for anyone trying to understand what the civil rights movement was about.
In one sense, Trent Lott was certainly correct (both in his recent comments and his earlier ones). Had Thurmond been elected in 1948, it is doubtful the Freedom Riders would have had "all these problems" - because it's doubtful the Supreme Court would have made the same decision in 1960.
UPDATE: I took some heat for my Southern Strategy tangent. No less a conservative than John Derbyshire (my hero) has refused to follow the trend of GOP apologists:
In the world of practical politics, as revealed most recently in l'affaire Lott, the dishonesty is at a level I simply cannot handle. It just makes me gag. All American politicians are liars and hypocrites about race, from Democrats like Hillary Clinton posing as champions of the downtrodden black masses while buying a house in the whitest town they can find, to Republicans pretending not to know that (a) many millions of nonblack Americans seriously dislike black people, (b) well-nigh every one of those people votes Republican, and (c) without those votes no Republican would ever win any election above the county level. (Am I being beeped out yet?)
UPDATE: An article on the continuing dominance of rightwing hate groups within conservative groups. This one discusses the Sons of Confederate Veterans. (via Electrolite)