Traveling exhibit commemorates 60th anniversary of Freedom Rides

Freedom Rider Dr. Katherine Burkes-Brooks Speaks To The Crowd. Photo By Libby Foster For The Bama Buzz.
Freedom rider Dr. Katherine Burkes-Brooks speaks to the crowd in Birmingham. Photo by Libby Foster for The Bama Buzz.

A restored Greyhound Bus is traveling throughout Alabama to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Rides. We spotted the Freedom Rides Museum in Birmingham on May 19th—here’s how you can see the museum in your city.

History of the Freedom Riders

The Vintage Greyhound Bus Catches The Eye Before Revealing Its History. Photo By Libby Foster For The Bama Buzz.
Alabama Historical Commission’s vintage Greyhound bus catches the eye before revealing its history. Photo by Libby Foster for The Bama Buzz.

The Freedom Rides took place throughout the South in the summer of 1961. Black and white young adults, most between the ages of 18 and 22, traveled in Greyhounds throughout the South. The multiracial groups tried to use “whites-only” restrooms and lunch counters. They faced vehement and often violent opposition. The Freedom Riders’ struggles caused the Interstate Commerce Commission to desegregate public transportation in interstate terminals that fall.

Boarding the Greyhound bus

The Inside Of The Vintage Greyhound Bus. Photo By Libby Foster For The Bama Buzz.
The inside of the vintage Greyhound bus. Photo by Libby Foster for The Bama Buzz.

The Alabama Historical Commission received its vintage Freedom Riders bus as a donation from the Greyhound Bus Museum in Minnesota. They hosted the stop in Birmingham with help from the Birmingham Public Library. It was parked just beside the library’s downtown branch on Park Place.

The bus serves a larger purpose in the Alabama Historical Commission’s efforts.

“By having something physical, we can give something tangible to put them into that mindset. Also, to reflect on what it would take for them today, and what their personal mission is,” said Wendi Lewis, the Marketing and Public Relations Manager at the Alabama Historical Commission.

The Alabama Historical Commission had the right idea. The bus was an engaging and immersive experience. Upon entering the bus, visitors were confronted with sounds of struggle, protests and news reports from the Freedom Riders’ journey. Some visitors got anxious in this immersive experience, while others calmly reflected. All were affected by their newfound understanding of the Freedom Riders.

The Ceremony

The Crowd At The Alabama Historical Commission'S Freedom Riders Ceremony In Birmingham. Photo By Libby Foster For The Bama Buzz.
The crowd at the Alabama Historical Commission’s Freedom Riders ceremony in Birmingham. Photo by Libby Foster for The Bama Buzz.

The commemorative ceremony kicked off at 5 PM, two hours after the bus opened. A crowd had formed by that point in the evening. All were silent and ready to listen.

Reverend Thomas Wilder of Bethel Baptist Church led the ceremony’s invocation.

“I am amazed at the bravery of these nonviolent protestors, particularly at the fact that they did not fight back once attacked. I’m interested in realizing what it took for them to be so courageous in order to strengthen my own resolve so that when my time comes, I’m there.”

Wilder stated before the ceremony

Bravery of all kinds was on display in front of the Greyhound bus. Local singers like Ashley Sankey and Ricky Powell, Jr. belted out gospels. The crowd clapped and nodded along to their awe inspiring talent.

Broadway Singer Freedom Riders
Ricky Powell, Jr. sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” at the Freedom Riders ceremony. Photo by Libby Foster for The Bama Buzz.

Dr. Catherine Burks-Brooks, an original freedom rider, took the podium confidently. She was a small woman with a big presence. Burks-Brooks spoke of the segregation she experienced as a child in Selma and her unwillingness to accept it.

“I didn’t step aside when I was downtown by myself,” Burks-Brooks told the crowd.

Reverend Clyde Carter, another freedom rider, also spoke in the ceremony. He joined the Freedom Riders in Charlotte, and successfully rode from Atlanta to Montgomery. He was confronted by 200 National Guardsmen and an angry crowd when he arrived.

“When I look at my grandchildren, I am proud to see them experience things that I couldn’t,” Carter concluded.

The Front Of The Bus Reveals Its Final Destination: Montgomery, Al. Photo By Libby Foster For The Bama Buzz.
The front of the bus reveals its final destination: Montgomery, AL. Photo by Libby Foster for The Bama Buzz.

The Freedom Riders Bus is arriving in Montgomery at 10:23 AM on May 20, the exact time and date the bus arrived in the city 60 years ago. Student Freedom Riders were met with violence 60 years ago, but a ceremony will take place in their honor this time around.

The Alabama Historical Commission plans to take the bus on more tours throughout the South in the future.

For more of our coverage on the Freedom Riders, check out https://bhamnow.com/tag/freedom-riders-national-monument/.

Were you at a Freedom Riders event in Alabama this week? Tag us @thebamabuzz to let us know!

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Libby Foster
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