NEW YORK — Next month, hundreds of Americans are expected to converge upon Jackson, Miss., to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic Freedom Rides. In the early 1960’s, this nonviolent protest helped to bring about the desegregation of bus stations throughout the South. In addition, the Freedom Riders helped ignite the civil rights movement nationwide providing a model that led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, ensuring greater equality for all Americans.
On May 4, 1961, the first Freedom Riders, a group of 13 activists—black and white, male and female of various faiths and ages set off on a mission. The Freedom Riders rode interstate buses integrating bus station stops along their journey i n a push to get the federal government to enforce a Supreme Court ruling prohibiting segregation in bus stations.
During their travels, Freedom Riders stopped in Anniston, Alabama, where they faced their first mob Attacks. The bus had its tires slashed and was forced off the road and was firebombed. In Birmingham they were beaten by mobs for several minutes before police showed up. They faced the same violence in Montgomery before making their way to Jackson, Mississippi. In Mississippi, Freedom Riders were arrested and carted off to jail on charges of Breach of Peace. The Riders abandoned their original destination of New Orleans and instead adopted the tactic of “jail – no bail.” They refused to pay their fines or post bail, instead invited new Freedom Riders to come to Jackson.
Between May 24 and September 13, 328 people came from all parts of the country to Mississippi desegregating stations. Most were arrested and placed in jail or the maximum-security cells at Parchman, the state’s infamous Delta prison farm. As the momentum grew around the movement, nearly 450 civil rights activists from all over the county began to take part in the Freedom Rides that lasted from late May to September of 1961.
The 50th Anniversary, scheduled to run from May 22-26, 2011 in Jackson, Mississippi is a celebration in the spirit of reconciliation, is being organized by the Mississippi Freedom 50th Foundation. The celebration will feature a youth summit, a wide array of panel discussions, town hall meetings and other educational events. The goal of the event is to teach the nation’s younger generations about the importance of the civil rights movement, promote awareness of the Freedom Rides and other campaigns that fueled the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
Mississippi Freedom 50th Foundation, Inc., whose board includes such civil rights luminaries as Freedom Rider and U.S. Representative John Lewis, Freedom Rider and U.S. Representative Bob Filner, Freedom Rider and U.S. Representative Bennie Thompson, Freedom Rider and NAACP Chairman Julian Bond and Freedom Rider and Chairman of the National Board of Directors Mississippi Freedom 50th Foundation Hank Thomas, is a non-profit, charitable 501(c)(3) organization.
National Honorary Chairs: Freedom Rider U.S. Rep John Lewis (D-Ga.), Freedom Rider U.S. Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) and U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.); National Advisory Board Members: NAACP Chariman Julian Bond and NAACP President Benjammin T. Jealous; Fredom Riders Hank Thomas, Catherine Burks-Brooks, Dion Diamond, Bill Harbour, Joan Mulholland, and Helen Singleton; Dr. Rudy Lombard, former Executive Director of CORE organizer of the Freedom Rides; and Dr. Timothy Tyson, civil rights scholar, Duke University