Heartened by Freedom Ride revival

letter in Daily Local News, 6/8/11

It was very heartening to read in “Reviving the Freedom Ride” (Daily Local, June 3) how 40 students of today (including one from West Chester), plus some of the original 1961 Freedom Riders, replicated the famed route of 50 years ago. As Sara Mosqueda-Fernandez’s article mentions, PBS has blogs and other material at pbs.org, including the almost two-hour documentary.

What is often forgotten is that the first Freedom Ride (known as “Journey of Reconciliation”) actually took place in 1947, led by West Chester native Bayard Rustin (born in 1912, died in 1987) and George Houser (born in 1916, still active and receiving recognition).

The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) named Rustin and Houser to lead an interracial group testing the 1946 Supreme Court ruling that Jim Crow laws on interstate buses and trains were unconstitutional.

A few days ago, George Houser posted his own very interesting retrospective, “The Freedom Rides: From Project to Mass Movement,” at forusa.org (search Houser).

One of the results of the 1947 ride was Rustin’s dramatic and moving “Twenty-two days on a chain gang,” recounting his sentence served in a North Carolina prison, which you can read at westchesterview.tumblr.com (Jan. 18), along with other background material. To Rustin’s great pleasure, his narrative actually helped to improve prison conditions.

The commitment and courage (1947, 1961) of these civil rights pioneers should live forever in the annals of our history. I hope West Chester and Chester County will find a suitable way to commemorate Bayard Rustin’s 100th birthday, March 17, 2012.

Nathaniel Smith
West Chester

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Filed under Nathaniel Smith, Race, Ethnicity, Immigration

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