FREEDOM RIDERS

Immigrant Freedom Riders
from Minneapolis, Minn.,
arrive at the Labor Temple
for a rally in Madison, Wis.,
Sunday, Sept.28, 2003,
before going on to
Washington, D.C.

The Congress of Racial Equality (C.O.R.E.) began to test a Supreme Court case banning segregation on interstate buses by organizing the first Freedom Rides in 1947. Enraged southerners attacked the racially mixed group as they entered the South. North Carolina authorities arrested some freedom riders and forced them to work on a chain gang.

In 1961, a new group of interracial C.O.R.E. activists began a similar journey on interstate buses. With whites in the blacks-only section and vice versa, they planned a journey from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans, and met fierce and violent resistance along the way. In Anniston, Ala., mobs stoned a bus, slashed its tires and firebombed it after it left town. The authorities passively or actively supported the violent incidents. Through their non-violent struggle, the Freedom Riders put a spotlight on injustice. In the 1960s, these brave demonstrators forced the Kennedy Administration to act, and the Interstate Commerce Commission banned segregation in all facilities under its authority.

Immigrant Freedom Riders from
Miami, Fla., chant together in
support of immigrants’ rights
after arriving in Washington,
D.C., on Oct. 1, 2003.

 

Four decades later, a new generation of activists embarked on freedom rides for the rights of immigrants. More than one thousand immigrants traveled cross country, rallying with supporters along the way. The new freedom riders demanded legal status for all immigrants, a clear path for citizenship, the right of immigrants to reunite with their families and new workplace protections. Like the earlier generation, immigrants (especially the undocumented) are using the freedom rides to make their voices heard as part of a larger movement for economic and social justice.

A bus load of “freedom riders,” including four white college professors and three African- American students, arrives in Montgomery, Ala., on May 24, 1961, guarded by police and National Guard.

 

Members of the Washington Freedom Riders Committee, en route to Washington, D.C., hang signs from bus windows to protest segregation, New York City, 1961.