Freedom Rider shares experiences with Davis students
Pastor recalls experiences to end segregation in transportation
Over 50 years ago, the Rev. Reg- inald Green took a bus trip — one that landed him in jail, but also helped shape the course of Amer- ican history. Now Green is sharing his past with a generation of students who have never experienced Jim Crow laws.
Green, a retired pastor of Walker Memorial Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., spoke to students at Theodore G. Davis Middle School Friday in the school’s media center.
In 1960, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Boynton v. Virginia that racial segregation in bus transportation violated the Interstate Commerce Act. Still, bus transportation and facilities continued to be segregated.
“It’s one thing to write laws, but it’s another thing to enforce them,” Green said.
In 1961, the Freedom Riders challenged those practices by riding buses together in mixedrace groups.
On May 14, a Greyhound bus carrying Freedom Riders was attacked by a mob in Anniston, Ala. The bus tires were slashed and the bus was firebombed. Passengers fleeing the bus were beaten severely, as were Freedom Riders on another bus in Birmingham the same day.
“Imagine yourselves on a bus, no way to communicate, with a mob,” Green told students.
Green was a student at Vir- ginia Union University in Richmond preparing for the ministry in 1961 when he saw the news stories about Freedom Riders being attacked. He decided he had to do something.
“When I saw the bus burning, the image of that bus, that’s why three of us from Virginia Union went on that ride,” Green said. “I knew that if I was going to be a preacher of the Gospel testament, then I needed to not only say what I believe, but act on it.”
Green traveled as a Freedom Rider to Jackson, Miss., where he and other Freedom Riders were arrested for violating the segregated facilities. Green said the goal at that time was to fill the jails with Freedom Riders, and they all took a “jail, no bail” stance.
Green took several questions from students about what it was like being a Freedom Rider and being arrested.
Green said his parents didn’t know he had taken part in the Freedom Rides, and thought he was in Richmond until a reporter called his house to speak with his father.
“After coming home, and going back to school, he was always immensely proud,” Green said. “My mother never really talked about it. And then I had the community I grew up in, that was very proud of what I did … but my story is different from some of the others. There’s some Freedom Riders whose families disowned them, did not want to have anything to do with them. If you were white, particularly young ladies, their parents felt that they were a disgrace to the white race.”
Green said prison was difficult, but the Freedom Riders had each other to keep their spirits up, even when subjected to abuse.
“In the prisons, they separated white from black, and the women from men. But all of us were in the Parchman Penitentiary, in a maximum security prison, and there were ‘regular’ criminals, people doing hard time, housed in the same building,” Green said.
Green said that in the prison, fans were turned on at night and off during the day when temperatures were hottest. Jailers took away the Freedom Riders’ mattresses, but they sang songs to keep their spir- its up.
Green shared a song the Freedom Riders sang while im- prisoned in Mississippi.
“No more Jim Crow. No more Jim Crow. No more Jim Crow over me. And before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave, and go home to my Lord and be free,” Green sang.
Eventually the Freedom Riders were released, by which time their arrests had caused international condemnation. In November of that year, the Interstate Commerce Com- mission (ICC) put into effect new policies that desegregat- ed all interstate buses, trains and terminals, including restrooms, water fountains and waiting rooms.
“We didn’t know we were making history; we just wanted people to be treated the same,” Green said.
Student Hannah King asked Green what he thought his life would have been like without the Freedom Rides.
“The honest answer is I don’t know,” Green said. “But I know I would be absent of this very rich, and human and challenging experience that I went through along with many others, which helped shape who I became.”
Green said he enjoys coming out and speaking with students about his experiences.
“I’ll go anywhere to talk to young people like yourselves,” Green told Davis students. “Because you are the beneficiaries of a lot of sacrifice, a lot of hard work. You are the benefactors of a lot of struggle, a lot of death that many ended up encountering.”
Davis social studies teacher Duania Darby said she extended an invitation to Green to speak at her school after seeing an interview with him on television. She said she was deeply honored he accepted her invitation to speak, which capped off the school’s Black History Month events.
STAFF PHOTO BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU The Rev. Reginald Green, right, speaks with students at Theodore G. Davis Middle School about his experiences as a Freedom Rider in 1961 on Friday.