Freedom Riders

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Freedom Riders
Throughout 1961, groups of White and Black students who were dubbed "Freedom Riders" began a series of well-publicized rides on Southern buses. The Freedom riders were often assaulted along the way. In some cases federal Marshals were used to try to protect the riders.

The Freedom Riders were organized by the C.O.R.E. (Congress of Racial Equality) planned a bus ride through the South to try to integrate public transportation in the South. The first Freedom Riders, led by CORE Director, James Farmer, set out from Washington, DC on May 5th, 1961. Seven of the riders were Black and six were White. They set out from Washington on Greyhound and Trailways buses. The Freedom Riders rode the buses seating a white and black rider side-by-side. They made certain least one set of passengers sat in the front of the bus, which, in the South, was reserved for White riders.

The Freedom Riders had only minor difficulties as the buses traversed Virginia and the Carolinas. When a bus reached Anniston, Alabama it was attacked by a mob of Ku Klux Klan supporters. The Greyhound bus was set on fire in Anniston. As the riders escaped they were beaten up by the mob. Riders of the Trailways bus were beaten up when it arrived at its final stop Anniston.

Despite the dangers, the Freedom Riders insisted they be allowed to continue on. The Riders proceeded on to Alabama. In Birmingham, they were attacked by mob with baseball bats. The mob was aided and abetted by police officers under the command of the Police Chief, Bull Conner.

The level of brutality directed at the Freedom Riders forced the Kennedy Administration to become directly involved. The Administration convinced Alabama's Governor to protect the bus as it continued from Birmingham to Montgomery. John Seigenthaler was sent by Robert Kennedy to be his personal representative. When the bus arrived in Montgomery, their State Police protection disappeared. As a result, the riders, especially the white riders, were brutally beaten. The Justice Department representative, John Seigenthaler, was one of those beaten to unconsciousness.

With the terrible images of these beatings being beamed into homes, both in the United States and round the world, the Kennedy Administration finally prevailed on local governors to provide proper protection for the Riders. Though, the Administration could not do anything to stop local police who arrested the demonstrators for violating their local segregation laws. However, the Freedom Riders convinced the Kennedy Administration that it had to move forward on the issues of Civil Rights.