FREDERICKSBURG, VA -- The University of Mary Washington will launch a semester-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, and civil rights pioneer James Farmer and Monday, Feb. 7, with a special kickoff event followed by a Freedom Rides scholar's remarks.
The 1961 Freedom Rides challenged the segregation of bus transportation throughout the Deep South. Freedom Riders were beaten and jailed, and their buses were attacked during the rides organized by James L. Farmer Jr., then head of CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality.
Farmer taught the history of the civil rights movement to Mary Washington students for about a dozen years before his retirement in 1998. That year, President Bill Clinton awarded Farmer the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2010, the university teamed with Rep. Lewis, who rode with Farmer on the Freedom Rides, to campaign for a U.S. postage stamp honoring the late Farmer.
The three-month tribute will feature appearances by Freedom Riders and academic scholars of race, civil rights and student activism. The March 30 limited-release showing of the critically acclaimed PBS documentary "Freedom Riders" will be among the highlights. The celebration will culminate May 7-8 with events that include a commencement address by U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a Freedom Rider and civil rights leader.
UMW President Rick Hurley encourages the public to get involved in the university's celebration of Farmer and the rides by participating in the scheduled activities. "I invite the entire UMW community to come together to pay tribute to the legacy of the Freedom Riders, to recognize the role of our beloved professor as one of our greatest civil rights champions, and to reflect on the lessons that they have for us today," Hurley said.
The public is invited to the following events in a schedule that begins during Black History Month:
* Freedom Riders celebration kickoff at noon Monday, Feb. 7, on Ball Circle and Campus Walk. Author Eric Etheridge will speak at the kickoff and he will be accompanied by two former Freedom Riders, the Rev. Reginald Green and Joan Trumpauer Mulholland.
* Lecture by Eric Etheridge, author of Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Freedom Riders, at 7 p.m. Feb. 7, in the Great Hall, Woodard Campus Center. A journalist and photographer, Etheridge recently interviewed and photographed many of the original Freedom Riders for the book.
* An address, "Lessons of the Civil Rights Generation for Today's Students," by Andy Lewis, author of The Shadows of Youth: The Remarkable Journey of the Civil Rights Generation, from 3 to 5 p.m., Wednesday, March 30, in Lee Hall, room 411.
* Limited-release showing of the film "Freedom Riders" at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 30, in Dodd Auditorium, George Washington Hall. PBS and UMW have collaborated on this special showing of the widely hailed documentary directed by Stanley Nelson. PBS will broadcast the film in May on "American Experience."
* Freedom Riders panel discussion and Great Lives lecture at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 31, in Dodd Auditorium, featuring a talk by Raymond Arsenault, author of Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice, followed by a discussion with a panel of Freedom Riders.
* UMW commencement address by Rep. Lewis, part of the ceremony at 9 a.m., Saturday, May 7 on Ball Circle. Lewis, a civil rights colleague of James Farmer and organizer of sit-ins to protest segregation, co-founded and chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a leading organization for student activism.
* Students aboard the PBS "American Experience" bus retracing the route of the first Freedom Ride will stop Sunday, May 8 at UMW in Fredericksburg, part of the original route, for a commemoration at the James Farmer memorial on Campus Walk.
The original 13 Freedom Riders, including Farmer, boarded a bus in Washington, D.C., on May 4, 1961. The racially mixed group of men and women, ranging in age from 18 to 61, traveled through Virginia and into the Deep South, where segregation was decreed by local and state laws. The Freedom Riders risked their lives as they faced police brutality, vigilantes and even bombs.
Attorney General Robert Kennedy sent federal marshals to Alabama to restore order after mob violence erupted, and at one point, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. flew to Alabama to support the riders. When news of the brutality against the first rides reached the nation and the world, buses from all over the U.S. joined the effort. In all, more than 400 Freedom Riders - a majority of whom were jailed in Jackson, Miss. - traveled through the South to demand just treatment of all interstate travelers.