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Summer of Freedom

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Fifty years ago today began a significant event in the Civil Rights Movement.

On this day in 1961, black and white students joined James Farmer, head of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), to conduct "freedom rides" on public transportation from Washington, DC across the South to New Orleans. Federal law prohibited segregation in interstate travel but localities throughout the South ignored the law, separating the races on buses and in depots at water fountains, restrooms, and waiting rooms. Farmer’s objective with the freedom rides was to force the Kennedy administration to enforce the law and desegregate bus depots. A disciple of Gandhi and nonviolence, Farmer trained the riders to take abuse.

On their first stop, in Fredericksburg, they found the segregation signs had been taken down. Further South, the climate was fiercely resistant.

In several places riders were brutally beaten by local people and policemen. On May 14, members of the KKK attacked Freedom Riders in Birmingham, Alabama while local police watched. In Mississippi, Freedom Riders were jailed. They never made it to New Orleans.

Farmer later became a professor at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg and, in 1998, President Clinton presented him with the Medal of Freedom.

Freedom Riders by Ann Bausum focuses on the story of two participants in the Summer of Freedom, John Lewis and Jim Zwerg. Lewis, son of a black Alabama sharecropper, was a seminary student in Nashville and leader of the student nonviolence movement. In contrast, Zwerg, a student at Beloit College, came from a privileged background as son of a white Wisconsin dentist. Different though they were, Lewis and Zwerg shared in common a commitment to civil rights for all citizens and were willing to risk their lives for their beliefs. This is a dramatic story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats as they race to learn the outcome of this terrible time.

Walking with the Wind: a memoir of the movement is John Lewis’s own account of his life, from his dirt poor boyhood to election to the U. S. House of Representatives from Georgia. Part III retells the events of the Freedom Ride.

Spies of Mississippi: the true story of the spy network that tried to destroy the Civil Rights Movement by Rick Bowers unearths the lengths to which powerful politicians determined to preserve the segregationist status quo would go. The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, established in 1956 to ensure states’ rights, spied on private citizens, maintained secret files, arrested civil rights advocates, sent money to white power groups, forced black-owned businesses to close, interfered with voter registration, and was linked to the assassination of Medgar Evers and the murder of three Freedom Summer volunteers. This is a chilling account of a dark time in our history. It will open eyes of young people born after this time, and serve as a vivid reminder of the tension, hostility, and fear of those days to people who are old enough to recall them.

A Traveler’s Guide to the Civil Rights Movement by Jim Carrier presents state-by-state listings of the museums, monuments, and historic landmarks in the South. Virginia is represented by a number of sites, including James Farmer’s Fredericksburg home

To learn more about this important event in the history of civil rights in America, visit or call 988-2541.

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