Extraordinary courage stepped up to bigotry in America during the summer of 1961. The acts of bravery came not from soldiers in battle or politicians taking a stand. No, in this case, the valor came from everyday Americans – civilians concerned about the state of their country. Eventually, there would be hundreds of them, acting over a five month period. They came from all over the U.S. They were black and white; liberal and conservative; Catholic, Protestant, and Jew. Many were college students; some from the seminary. They came to lend their presence and put their bodies on the line. Their actions were innocent and non-violent. All they set out to do was ride on a bus – or rather, insure that a person of any color could ride on a bus from one state to another. They were called “Freedom Riders.”
Before it was all over more than 60 “Freedom Rides” would criss-cross the South between May and November of 1961. At least 436 individuals would ride buses and trains to make their point. However, a number of the “freedom riders” were physically assaulted, chased, and/or threatened by white mobs, some beaten with pipes, chains and baseball bats. Many of the riders were also arrested and jailed, especially in Mississippi. Yet these arrests became part of the protest – and in this case, a badge of honor.
For those arrested were not criminals. Far from it. They were among America’s finest heroes. Yes, America has a long line of heroes, and none more honorable than those who fought and died in military conflicts – from the Revolutionary War through WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Those heroes occupy a special and honored place. Yet few heroes stand taller on the domestic front than those who came from the civilian population during the 1961 civil rights “freedom rides.”
Below are some of the mugshots of the “Freedom Riders” after being arrested for protesting in Jackson, Mississippi in 1961. Most of them were sent to the brutal Parchman Prison in Mississippi.