PBS re-airs the award winning Stanley Nelson documentary Freedom Riders. The Freedom Riders were mostly middle aged civil rights activists that rode interstate buses into the segregated southern United States to test the United States Supreme Court decision Boynton v. Virginia (of 1960). The first Freedom Ride left Washington, D.C., on May 4, 1961, and was scheduled to arrive in the Big Easy (New Orleans) on May 17.
Only minor trouble was encountered in Virginia and North Carolina, but John Lewis was attacked in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and some of the Riders were arrested in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Winnsboro, South Carolina.
Violence in Alabama was organized by Birmingham Police Sergeant Tom Cook (an avid Ku Klux Klan supporter) and the infamous police commissioner Bull Connor. The pair made plans to bring the Ride to an end in Alabama.
In Anniston, Alabama, a mob attacked the Greyhound bus and slashed its tires. When the crippled bus had to stop several miles outside of town, it was firebombed by the mob chasing it in cars. As the bus burned, the mob held the doors shut, intent on burning the riders to death. Sources disagree, but either an exploding fuel tank or an undercover state investigator brandishing a revolver caused the mob to retreat, allowing the riders to escape the bus. The riders were viciously beaten as they fled the burning bus, and only warning shots fired into the air by highway patrolmen prevented the riders from being lynched.
Hank Thomas sit at the lunch counter today to talk about his experience on that historic trip some 50 years ago.
Join us and don't forget to watch the documnetary tonight on your local PBS. Check your local listing for the time.
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