In Black America Podcast: The 1961 Freedom Riders
On this edition of In Black America, producer/host John L. Hanson Jr. speaks with The Honorable John Lewis, Julian Bond and Raymond Arsenault. The first Freedom Riders left Washington, D.C. on May 4, 1961. Seven Blacks and six Whites traveled south on two public buses. The Freedom Riders met little resistance in the upper south unlike the first “Journey of Reconciliation.” They first met trouble at Rock Hill, South Carolina, where twenty white Southerners hurt two people before the police arrived. The Freedom Riders continued their journey and encountered similar trouble, but did not attract national attention until ten days after they began their journey.
On May 14, 1961, Mother’s Day, the Freedom Riders decided to divide into two groups to travel around Alabama. One group ran into trouble in Anniston, Alabama when 200 angry people stoned the bus and slashed the tires. The bus was able to get away, but when it stopped to change the tires, it was firebombed. The bus was destroyed but the people were able to get away with only minor injuries. One hour later, the second bus arrived at Anniston. They were also attacked and beaten. The angry people boarded the bus, sat at the front, and forced the Freedom Riders to sit in the back. The driver headed north to Birmingham, Alabama. There, another angry group of people attacked and beat up the Freedom Riders with pipes and fists. Police didn’t arrive until well after the beatings, even though they were only two blocks away. The nation was shocked by the violence and lack of police protection. The Freedom Riders had become national news.