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Transcript John Lewis, Freedom Rider [reading]: Moultrie Howard, Freedom Rider [reading]: I understand that I shall be participating in a non-violent protest That arrests or personal injury to me might result The Freedom Rides of were the simple but daring plan: The Congress of Racial Equality came up with the idea to put blacks and whites in small groups on commercial buses, and they would deliberately violate the segregation laws of the deep South.
Genevieve Houghton, Freedom Rider: We were to go through various parts of the South, gradually going deeper and deeper, six of us on a Trailways bus and six of us on the Greyhound bus, and see whether places were segregated, whether people were being served when they went to get something to eat, or buy a ticket, or use the restrooms.
Most of the action up till this time had been in the upper South or in the North. And one of the ideas here was to go into the deepest South. We were hoping that this would start a national movement. CORE had this set itinerary. They anticipated that this would be a two-week trip; that it would culminate down in New Orleans with a real celebration on the anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision. John Lewis, Freedom Rider: I know that an education is important, and I hope to get one.
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But at this time, human dignity is the most important thing in my life. That justice and freedom might come to the Deep South. We talk about it here as separation of the races. Customs and traditions that have been built up over the last hundred years that have proved for the best interest of both the colored and the white people.
The colored man knows where he stands. The white man knows where he stands.
We have signs saying colored and white. The colored man knows that he is not to enter there. You cannot change a way of life overnight. The more they try to force us into doing something, then the worse the reaction will be.
Our colored people will do exactly as they have done. Our white people will do exactly as they have done.
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It was all-encompassing; this so-called Southern way of life would and not allow for any breaks. It was a system that was only as strong, the white Southerners thought, as its weakest link. It threatened their sense of the wholeness, the sanctity of what they saw as an age-old tradition.
Diane Nash, Student, Fisk University: Traveling the segregated South, for black people, was humiliating. The very fact that there were separate facilities was to say to black people and white people that blacks were so subhuman and so inferior that we could not even use public facilities that white people used.
The Supreme Court even said that there was no right that a black person had that white people had to respect. Charles Person, Freedom Rider: You had night riders. You could be antagonized at any point in your journey.
Bus Driver singing archival: Sangernetta Gilbert Bush, Montgomery Resident: My father traveled quite a bit. And he just wanted a cup of coffee to make it to Montgomery. I grew up in the South, a child of good and decent parents. We had women who worked in our household, sometimes surrogate mothers. They were invisible women to me. We were blind to the reality of racism, and afraid, I guess, of change.
Let the word go forth, from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans. When John Kennedy was elected in November , there was great hope and expectation that things would be better on matters of civil rights, that was a contrast between him and Dwight Eisenhower. He was young and had ideas and talked about the New Frontier. But when he gave his inaugural address in January of , he talked about spreading freedom all over the world -- to China, to Latin America, to Africa -- to everywhere but Alabama, and Mississippi, and Georgia.
The base of the Democratic Party was the essentially white voting South. The Kennedys had to be careful about antagonizing Southern governors and the whole Southern establishment which was segregationist.
John Patterson, Governor of Alabama, I was the first governor in the South that publicly endorsed him for president. John Patterson, Governor of Alabama, Archival: The entire nation will be looking at us on election day and will judge the way we feel about the segregation question by the size of the Democratic vote on November the 4th.
The Kennedys, when they came into office, were not worried about civil rights. They were worried about the Soviet Union. They were worried about the Cold War. They were worried about the nuclear threat. When civil rights did pop up, they regarded it as a bit of a nuisance, as something that was getting in the way of their agenda.
That was the idea behind the Freedom Rides -- to dare, essentially dare the federal government to do what it was supposed to do, and see if their constitutional rights would be protected by the Kennedy administration.
Farmer thought among the other benefits of the freedom rides would be added elevation for CORE. Because elevation for these groups mean everything; it means money, it means support, you get prestige, all that comes with publicity.
I do not think we can lose. We cannot lose unless we allow ourselves to be so divided that we lose a sense of direction and common purpose. The idea of the Freedom Rides is a really radical idea.
The idea of going into Mississippi and going into Alabama and challenging segregation so frontally and so aggressively in many ways is something that alarmed not only those who opposed civil rights but those within the civil rights community.
They thought it was too confrontational, that it was going to backfire, it was going to set the movement back. It was too risky. And it was very likely that they would get arrested, they might get beaten up, they might even get killed. Man archival, training video: May I have a cup of coffee please?
Woman archival, training video: Nigger, what are you doing in here? The training that we did in Washington, D. Are you with this fella? By using nonviolence, people see the contrast between your dignified, disciplined confrontation of the wrong, and then the reaction of violence.
No way of confusing that confrontation. And so you have these mixed motives: On the other hand, suppose something does happen. With our nonviolent behavior and our good will I thought we could do anything.
Do you expect any trouble? Genevieve Houghton, Freedom Rider Archival: There is a possibility that we will not be served at some stops. There is a possibility that we might be arrested.
This is the only trouble that I anticipate. May 4, , Washington, D. The first day getting on the bus, it was a good feeling. It was a good feeling. We were together, it was comradeship, it was a good cause, and we were going for the movement, you know, and we were going for the people. Boarding that Greyhound bus to travel through the heart of the Deep South, I felt good.
I was like a soldier in a nonviolent army. When the Freedom Riders board those buses in Washington D. Hank Thomas, Freedom Rider: And in a few cities, that did happen. The first few days of the ride was uneventful. And it basically was a piece of cake. James Peck and I, we realized, that, you know, this is not going to be as bad we thought.