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Monday, 4 April 2011

James Zwerg and the Freedom Riders

Transport segregation continued in some parts of the United States, so in 1961, a civil rights group, the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) began to organize Freedom Rides. After three days of training in non-violent techniques, black and white volunteers sat next to each other as they traveled through the Deep South. James Farmer, national director of CORE, and thirteen volunteers left Washington on 4th May, 1961, for Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. The group were split between two buses. They traveled in integrated seating and visited "white only" restaurants. When they reached Anniston on 14th May the Freedom Riders were attacked by men armed with clubs, bricks, iron pipes and knives. One of the buses was fire-bombed and the mob held the doors shut, intent on burning the riders to death. James Peck later explained what happened: "When the Greyhound bus pulled into Anniston, it was immediately surrounded by an angry mob armed with iron bars. They set about the vehicle, denting the sides, breaking windows, and slashing tires. Finally, the police arrived and the bus managed to depart. But the mob pursued in cars. Within minutes, the pursuing mob was hitting the bus with iron bars. The rear window was broken and a bomb was hurled inside. All the passengers managed to escape before the bus burst into flames and was totally destroyed. Policemen, who had been standing by, belatedly came on the scene. A couple of them fired into the air. The mob dispersed and the injured were taken to a local hospital." The surviving bus traveled to Birmingham, Alabama. A meeting of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee decided to send reinforcements. This included Zwerg, John Lewis, and eleven others including two white women. The volunteers realized their mission was extremely dangerous. James Zwerg later recalled: "I called my mother and I explained to her what I was going to be doing. My mother's comment was that this would kill my father - and he had a heart condition - and she basically hung up on me. That was very hard because these were the two people who taught me to love and when I was trying to live love, they didn't understand. Now that I'm a parent and a grandparent I can understand where they were coming from a bit more. I wrote them a letter to be mailed if I died. We had a little time to pack a suitcase and then we met to go down to the bus."


Felicia.Linderholm7856 said...

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Anonymous said...

I happen to know of the Freedom Riders. They are in Oklahoma and go to different Rodeos.
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Anonymous said...

Maybe you got some of the others started in Washington D.C.
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Anonymous said...

In the South during desegregation, blacks had to ride in the back of the bus. If whites wanted the seats, blacks had to give them up.
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Anonymous said...

Thanks I found who I was looking for even though this isnt the group it was nice to learn about some new groups.
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Anonymous said...

They were a group of people who wanted rasicm to stop and supported the equal rights to all people.
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Derek said...

Nice post great information thanks for sharing.
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SarahM said...

James Zwerg and his freedom riders were extremely courageous in 1961 when they drove and marched against racial injustice and eventually managed to turn the tide. Fifty years on the US needs some of that same courage from citizens to march against the tyrannical power wielded over ordinary citizens by the corrupt US Government and corrupt US banking system.
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