Freedom Riders Shed Light on South’s Refusal to Desegregate
On May 14, 1961, seven courageous members of the Congress of Racial Equality, which initiated the Freedom Rides, boarded an interstate Greyhound bus in Atlanta to challenge segregation in bus seating. In 1960, the United States Supreme Court had ruled in Boynton v. Virginia that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional. Despite this decision, many cities and states in the South continued to operate segregated buses. Upon arriving in Anniston, Alabama, the bus from Atlanta was met by an angry mob that broke the bus windows and slashed the tires. The police stepped in, and the bus was able to continue to Birmingham, but the mob followed. When the bus driver had to stop outside of Anniston because of the damaged tires, the mob set the bus on fire and attempted to trap the passengers inside. With the help of Highway Patrol officers, the passengers escaped but were violently attacked as they exited. Fortunately, no one was killed in the attack, but Ku Klux Klan members continued to harass the Freedom Riders along their journey. These clashes brought national attention to the South’s refusal to follow the Supreme Court’s decision, and the Freedom Riders became emblems of courage and determination.