May 17, 1961
The 1961 Freedom Rides were public bus trips undertaken by racially integrated groups through the Deep South to test the enforcement of a new court order prohibiting segregation in interstate bus terminals. The riders were met with hostility and violence in several states, especially in Alabama. On May 17, the group, including future Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, reached Birmingham, where they were taken into custody allegedly for their protection. However, they were released that same evening in a remote area known for Klan activity near the Alabama-Tennessee border.
Read more at Encyclopedia of Alabama.
Greyhound employees cover the windshield of a company bus carrying Freedom Riders on May 17, 1961, in Birmingham to protect it from a mob of white supremacists that had gathered to wait for the bus. (From Encyclopedia of Alabama, courtesy of The Birmingham News)
Freedom Riders Jim Zwerg, right, and Paul Brooks entering the Birmingham Greyhound Station in May 1961. The men were arrested for sitting together in the front of the bus as they entered Birmingham city limits on May 16, 1961. (From Encyclopedia of Alabama, courtesy of The Birmingham News)
On May 17, 1961, Birmingham law enforcement took the Freedom Riders into custody, allegedly for their protection. However, they were released that evening in a remote area known for Klan activity on the Alabama-Tennessee border. (From Encyclopedia of Alabama, courtesy of The Birmingham News)
Freedom Riders, from left, John Lewis, Charles Butler, Catherine Burks Brooks, Lucretia Collins and Salynn McCollum sit on a bench in the Birmingham Greyhound station on May 17, 1961. Soon after the photo was taken, the group was arrested and later released in a rural all-white area on the orders of Birmingham’s commissioner of public safety, Eugene “Bull” Connor. (From Encyclopedia of Alabama, courtesy of The Birmingham News)
The burning Greyhound bus pictured here carried Freedom Riders into Anniston on May 14, 1961, as part of an effort to test a newly enacted integration law regarding bus stations in the South. After the riders were attacked at the station in Anniston, the bus was firebombed after breaking down several miles outside the city. Many of the riders were beaten, with several being severely injured, by a white mob as they departed the bus. (From Encyclopedia of Alabama, Birmingham Public Library Archives)
A mob beats Freedom Riders in Birmingham. This picture was reclaimed by the FBI from a local journalist who also was beaten and whose camera was smashed. (Wikipedia)
Mugshot of Freedom Rider Winonah Myers. Photograph was taken on June 9, 1961. (TampBay, Mississippi State, Wikipedia)
Fred Shuttlesworth, crouching center, and Freedom Riders discuss plans at the Birmingham Greyhound Terminal after drivers refused them service. Freedom Riders are, clockwise from left: Ed Blankenheim (kneeling), Charles Person, Theodore Gaffney, James Peck, the Rev. Benjamin Cox, Moses Newson and Simeon Booker. (From Encyclopedia of Alabama, courtesy of The Birmingham News)
Freedom Riders hang anti-segregation signs from bus windows. In the early 1960s, the Congress of Racial Equality, an integrated group that promoted nonviolent methods to achieve racial equality, sent members to ride on public buses and trains to protest segregation of transportation networks. (Library of Congress, U.S. Embassy, The Hague, Flickr)
For more on Alabama’s Bicentennial, visit Alabama 200.