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Thursday, February 20, 2020

Black Civil Rights Activists, the 1961 Freedom Riders, Black History Month

James Farmer dedicated his life to the advancement of civil rights for blacks. He was one of the Founders of the Congress for Racial Equality, CORE, in 1942 and is considered one of the most influential of the civil rights leaders of the 1960's along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Roy Wilkins, Chief of NAACP, and Whitney Young. He was born in 1920 and died in 1999 at age of 79.

The Freedom Riders of 1961

Many of James Farmer’s acts took not only faith but an enormous amount of courage at a great personal sacrifice. He was a hardworking activist who pushed for non-violent protest to initiate change.

James Farmer is most acclaimed as the head of CORE and for his leading the 1961 Freedom Rides. Although the Freedom Rides of 1961 was a strictly non-violent effort to desegregate interstate busses and interstate terminals, many of the participants of the Freedom Rides tragically encountered and suffered violence at the hands of others.

Background of the Freedom Rides, Testing a 1960 Supreme Court Decision Declaring Segregated Facilities for Interstate Passengers Illegal

In Boynton v. Virginia, 364 U.S. 454 (1960), the Supreme Court of the United States overturned a judgment convicting Bruce Boyton, a black law student, for trespassing by being in a restaurant in a bus terminal which was "whites only".

A lower Virginia appeal court had upheld the black law student’s conviction for remaining in the white section of a bus terminal diner, a violation of a Virginia State Code. The student, Bruce Boyton, claimed that the state code as applied violated the Interstate Commerce Act. The State claimed that the conviction was proper because the diner was not owned by an interstate carrier but was privately owned.

Bruce Boyton Is a Black Hero in His Own Right, His Acts Led to the Freedom Rides

Bruce Boyton was traveling on a bus operated by an interstate carrier. During the trip, the bus that Bruce Boyton was traveling on stopped at a bus terminal that was owned by the carrier. Boyton sat down in the white section of a diner that was located in the bus terminal and attempted to order some food.  Boyton refused to move to the segregated “colored” portion of the diner.

Boyton was arrested, tried, and convicted under Virginia state law. The state appellate courts affirmed his conviction. The US Supreme Court reversed. The Supreme Court ruled that the assignment of areas in the diner based on race constituted illegal discrimination. The Court ruled because the diner was an integral part of interstate transportation, Bruce Boyton, who was traveling in interstate commerce, had a federal right to be free from discrimination in the diner. The Court held that Bruce Boyton’s conviction violated the Interstate Commerce Act, and it overturned Boyton’s conviction. Bruce Boyton is a black hero in his own right for having the bravery to bring this case to the courts and for having the tenacity to bring it all the way to the US Supreme Court. There are many unacclaimed black leaders in this century whose works have largely gone unrecognized.

The Freedom Riders Were Assaulted in Their Non-Violent Attempts to Test the 1960 US Supreme Court Decision.

The Freedom Riders, black and white bus passengers, were assaulted in their non-violent attempts to test that case. On May 14, 1961, the Freedom Riders were among the first of more than 400 black and white volunteers who traveled for several months in 1961 in the South on regularly scheduled buses to test that 1960 Supreme Court decision declaring that segregated facilities for interstate passengers was against the law.

On May 14, 1961, a mob of angry white people blocked a bus carrying black and white Freedom Riders in rural Alabama. The attackers threw rocks and bricks, smashed windows with pipes and axes, slashed tires, and threw a firebomb through a broken window. State troopers forced the mob back and allowed the riders to escape the bus's inferno. Some of the attackers continued in their violence and pounded the Riders with baseball bats as they fled.

Black and white passengers on the bus hours later entered whites-only waiting rooms and restaurants at bus terminals in Birmingham and Anniston Alabama and were attacked, beaten bloody. After photographs and news stories of the burning bus and bloody beatings of the non-violent Freedom Riders amassed national attention, many more people risked their lives and came and and joined the civil rights protests to challenge the racial discrimination.

The black and white bus passengers assaulted that day, the first Freedom Riders, were among the first of more than 400 volunteers who traveled throughout the South on regularly scheduled buses for several months in 1961 to test the  Boynton v. Virginia 1960 Supreme Court decision that declared segregated facilities for interstate passengers illegal.

The Freedom Riders’ efforts sparked a summer of similar rides by thousands of ordinary citizens, whites and non-whites, and other Civil Rights leaders. James Farmer and the other riders in Jackson, Mississippi were immediately jailed locally. To attract media attention for support for their cause, the Freedom Riders chose to be jailed rather than post bail in an attempt to fill the jails with protesters. Unfortunately for the Freedom Riders, the riders were transferred from local county and town jails to harsher conditions at Parchman State Penitentiary.

The Congress of Racial Equality and the issues of black civil rights and segregation grew in receiving national attention. James Farmer became a well-known civil rights leader and the Congress for Racial Equality gained increasing media coverage. James Farmer became well known as a civil rights leader and CORE's influence became widely distributed.

These acts set the stage for the 1964 Freedom Summer, to be discussed next for Black History month.

What You Can Do

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If you have experienced racism at work, or if you reported it and no action was taken, if you are thinking of resigning, or think you will be fired, or have been fired, it is important that you consult with an attorney who is experienced in discrimination.

If you are being subjected to workplace discrimination, contact Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law today for a free consultation.

Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law serves clients throughout New Jersey, including Bergen, Middlesex, Essex, Hudson, Monmouth, Ocean, Union, Camden, Passaic, and Morris Counties with locations in southern, central, western and northern NJ to meet with clients.


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