Did you know that the first civil rights "freedom ride" took place in 1947, fourteen years before the 1961 riders captured the nation's attention by exposing the brutality of Jim Crow in the South? The Journey of Reconciliation was organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which was born at FOR, and was led by FOR staff members Bayard Rustin and George Houser.
The interracial group of nine men on the Journey of Reconciliation set out from Washington, D.C. on April 9th, 1947. They met some resistance from passengers and drivers on buses in Virginia and North Carolina. But when they attempted to sit at the front of a bus in Chapel Hill on April 12th, the driver refused, and removed some of the riders by force. They were then attacked by angry cab drivers at the Chapel Hill bus station, and arrested by local police. Their subsequent time serving on a chain gang led Rustin to write about the experience. His serialized journal led to major reforms in the North Carolina prison system.
[Note from Jane: For a much earlier post on Bayard Rustin, see here.]
There are so many fascinating parts of this story. Please read this narrative by a local historian to learn more about the context and outcome of this journey.
Next week, a state historic marker will be installed in Chapel Hill to commemorate the Journey of Reconciliation. The event will be an opportunity to remember the horrors of Jim Crow past, and to look forward at the racial justice challenges of our future. I hope you can join me at one or more of these events in Chapel Hill. If not, perhaps you can show your support by making a donation to FOR in honor of the first freedom ride . Click the titles below to learn more and RSVP for these events.
Thursday 2/26, 7 pm: Screening & discussion: "You Don't have to Ride Jim Crow." Watch the documentary and discuss Chapel Hill's civil rights history with filmmaker Robin Washington. Sponsored by FOR and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP.
Friday 2/27, time TBA: Nonviolent direct action organizing, then and now . A discussion of old tactics and new frontiers with Robin Washington. Sponsored by FOR.
Saturday 2/28, noon: Day of Commemoration and Re-dedication . Freedom Riders in Chapel Hill 1947-2009: The Struggle for Racial Justice Continues. Sponsored by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP and the Community Church, with support from the Town of Chapel Hill.
I am helping to organize these events because I believe in the power of nonviolent direct action to bring about justice. I want others to remember this powerful legacy and to be inspired about the change we can continue to make happen today. I hope you will join me in Chapel Hill.
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Chapel Hill, N.C.
Fellowship of Reconciliation • 521 N. Broadway • Nyack, New York 10960 • 845-358-4601 • http://forusa.org/
Cross-posted at Race, Justice, and Love.