An Alabama museum unveiled a restored Greyhound bus Tuesday in honor of the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Riders who fought for desegregation in bus terminals.
The unveiling of the bus, which was in service during the time of the Freedom Rides in 1961, coincides with the 60th anniversary of when the first Freedom Riders left Washington, DC, for New Orleans. The ceremony was at the Alabama Historical Commission’s Freedom Rides Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, on Tuesday.
“As we celebrate the arrival of the restored Greyhound Bus and its symbolic representation of the courage of the Freedom Riders, we also commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Rides and their impact on equal rights for all Americans,” AHC Commission Chairman Eddie Griffith said in a news release.
The Freedom Ride movement started in May 1961, when Black and White civil rights activists rode on interstate buses into the Deep South to challenge segregation, even after Supreme Court rulings had sided with them.
Violence and trouble met the Freedom Riders in Alabama. A group of 200 White people set a bus on fire in Anniston. And when the riders took another bus to Birmingham, they were met by a mob who assaulted them with stones, baseball bats and more.
“It was very violent,” late US Rep. John Lewis, one of the 13 riders attacked in Alabama, said in 2001. “I thought I was going to die.”
Lewis and other riders were attacked and beaten by segregationists in Montgomery, Alabama, on May 20, 1961.
The Freedom Riders tested a 1960 Supreme Court ruling that segregation in interstate bus and rail travel was unconstitutional. Their efforts helped pave the way for the Interstate Commerce Commission to enforce the ruling a year later, as ordered by Attorney General Robert Kennedy.
“The Freedom Rides Museum is an integral part of this important story,” Lisa D. Jones, the commission’s executive director and state historic preservation officer, said in the release. “History happened here. Preserving this place helps bring to life a critical part of the civil rights story, and the role Montgomery and the state of Alabama played in it.”
Bernard Lafayette Jr. was one of the student Freedom Riders attacked that same day at the Greyhound bus station, which is the home of the museum. Lafayette and Alabama Rep. Terri Sewell were at the unveiling of the bus.
The 1957 model bus is a way to help visitors connect with the history that happened in Montgomery and take them back to what it was like during the Freedom Riders’ movement, Freedom Rides Museum Site Director Dorothy Walker told CNN.
“Part of what we hope people reflect on when they’re in that bus, much like the one the Freedom Riders were on in 1961, is, ‘What are we willing to figuratively get on the bus for?'” Walker said.
Audio plays on the bus, sharing the experiences of the Freedom Riders in their own voices, Walker said. There’s also a vintage suitcase showing what some of them packed for their journey across the South, she said.
The commission said the restored bus will be added to the museum’s permanent exhibit. It is planning on taking the bus on the road in May to places that are connected to the Freedom Rides, Walker said.