Free­dom Rider shares ex­pe­ri­ences with Davis stu­dents

Pas­tor re­calls ex­pe­ri­ences to end seg­re­ga­tion in trans­porta­tion

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com

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.

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