JACKSON, MS - Hundreds of Americans are expected to converge upon Jackson, Mississippi to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic Freedom Rides. The Anniversary, scheduled to run from May 22-26, 2011, will be a celebration in the spirit of reconciliation and will feature a youth summit, an array of panel discussions, town hall meetings and other educational events.
Buses (Freedom Rides 2011) carrying students from various universities and high schools will be departing from several cities, including New York to Jackson, starting Friday. The goal is to teach the nation’s younger generation 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.
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, riding interstate buses integrating bus station stops along their journey in 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 event, organized by the 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.
· Chair of the Mississippi 50th Foundation Freedom Rider, Hank Thomas
· U.S. Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.), Freedom Rider
· U. S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), Freedom Rider
· U. S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.)
· U.S. House Minority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.)
· Myrlie Evers, Civil Rights Activist and former NAACP chairman
· Lewis Zuchman, Director of Scan NY and Freedom Rider
· Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour
· NAACP Chairman Julian Bond
· NAACP President Benjamin T. Jealous
Other Freedom Riders from around the nation and abroad will attend as well including: 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.