workers.orgMay 26, 2011Page 3
fiy years laer
A tbut t ant-at fm r
y bayomi zikiwedior, Pan-rican News Wire
May 4 was the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Freedom Rides, a majorcivil rights campaign that legally brokethe back of racial segregation in interstatepublic travel in the United States. “Free-dom Riders,” a powerful documentary di-rected by Stanley Nelson, aired on PBS onMay 16 and sparked much discussion on both the historical signicance of the CivilRights movement as well as the currentstatus of African Americans today.The documentary featured interviewsand archival news footage of the period in1961 when anyone, Black or white, chal-lenging segregation in the South riskedimprisonment, torture and even death.During the course of the lunch countersit-ins the previous year in 1960, a broad- based student movement was formed andorganized by the Student Nonviolent Co-ordinating Committee.The Freedom Rides were started by theCongress of Racial Equality, a nonviolent,civil rights organization founded in 1942.On May 14, 1961, a Freedom Ride Grey-hound bus was rebombed in Anniston, Ala. The Freedom Riders were then sav-agely attacked with lead pipes and base- ball bats by a racist white mob.Resisting pressure from the Kennedy administration to abandon the FreedomRides, SNCC activists based in Nash- ville, Tenn., under the leadership of Di-ane Nash, announced that it was essen-tial that the Freedom Rides continue.The documentary exposes the fact thatPresident John Kennedy and his brother,then U.S. Attorney General Robert Ken-nedy, were more interested in protectingthe image of the U.S. — which appearedincreasingly racist — than in supportingthe Civil Rights movement, including theFreedom Rides.Student activist Lucretia Collinssummed up the sentiments within SNCC when she said, “In Nashville, we had beeninformed that CORE was going to haveFreedom Rides that could carry peopleall over the South, and their purpose wasto test the facilities at the bus stations inthe major cities. Later we heard that a busload of the Freedom Riders had been burned on Mother’s Day in Anniston, Ala., and that another bus had been at-tacked by people in Birmingham.” (“TheMaking of Black Revolutionaries,” JamesForman, 1972)Collins went on to stress that “CORE was discontinuing the Freedom Rides,people said. We felt that it had to contin-ue even if we had to do it ourselves. Weknew we were subject to being killed. Thisdid not matter to us. There was so muchat stake, we could not allow segregation-ists to stop us. We had to continue thatFreedom Ride even if we were killed inthe process.” After the continuation of the FreedomRides by SNCC and their supporters, thefederal government was forced to inter- vene by pressuring the Interstate Com-merce Commission to repeal the segrega-tion laws that regulated interstate publictransportation. This was only done afterhundreds of activists volunteered to beimprisoned on false charges in Parch-man Correctional Facility in Mississippi,one of the most notorious prisons in theSouth. Although many were beaten andtortured in Parchman, racist repressiononly fueled this heroic mass, anti-racistmovement.
Changing he course o hisory
The Freedom Rides, as the sit-ins haddone the year before, provided greatermomentum for the Civil Rights move-ment. Increased mass mobilizations took place throughout the South beginning in Albany, Ga., in 1962, when an anti-segre-gation campaign brought out thousandsfor mass protests and arrests.In 1963, the Civil Rights movement would advance even further with massmobilizations in Birmingham involvingthousands of students. These demonstra-tions against segregation would spreadthroughout the South as well as theNorth, to cities such as Somerville, Tenn.,and Chicago.These demonstrations during thespring and summer of 1963 led to the rstmassive protests of the era, in Detroit onJune 23 and later the historic March on Washington, D.C., of 250,000 on August28. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was thenpassed outlawing racial discriminationinside the U.S. After the efforts of the Freedom Sum-mer of 1964 in Mississippi and other ar-eas and the voting rights campaign in Sel-ma during early 1965, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed ostensibly guar-anteeing universal suffrage. In 1966, themovement would become more militant when SNCC came out in opposition tothe draft and the Vietnam War as well asraising the slogan of Black Power duringthe “March Against Fear” from Memphis,Tenn., to Jackson, Miss., in June of that year.Just as it took courage and creativity to break down legalized segregation in theU.S., it will take greater efforts to defeatthe ruling class’s challenges placed beforethe people in the current period. Conse-quently, a broad alliance of the workersand oppressed must come together to takeon the austerity measures and repressionthat are the latest mechanisms designedto further the exploitation and oppressionof the majority of people in the U.S.
Go to www.pbs.org to view or for moreinformation about the documentary.
For more a 50 years, orkers ord/Mdo brero as corbeda revooary Mars perspecve a as sed g o eves, boeraoa ad domesc, from e po of vew of e eress of eworkg cass ad e oppressed. i as campoed ad epaed esrgge o ed s saabe capas pro sysem, wc s brgggref o e woe pae.From e bae es scos, were workers are gg a a-o osag; o e May Day raes for mmgra ad workers’ rgs;o beseged Gaza, were e Paesa peope are ressg israe ag-gresso, or acvs reporers sed rsad accos ad poos acoer e es ad dsoros e moopoy-owed meda.
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Firebombing o Freedom Ride bus, May 14, 1961, nniston, la.