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Tennessee State University Freedom Riders
October 4, 2016
The US Supreme Court's decision in Boynton v. Virginia (1960) gave travelers the legal right to disregard local segregation ordinances regarding interstate transportation facilities. But it was the ruling itself which was blatantly disregarded by local segregationists who refuse to relinquish their "whites only" signs and other vestiges of discrimination in bus terminals and train stations throughout the South.
It was this disregard of the law which called the Freedom Riders into action. Led by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and inspired by the Rev, Dr, Martin Luther King, Jr., hundreds of students and other activists rode interstate buses into the segregated South to assert their rights. During the initial rides in May 1961, the riders, who were armed only with their commitment to nonviolent protests, were met with nonstop violence and persecution, The buses were frequently intercepted by mobs and riders were brutally attacked. When the buses were able to arrive at their destinations without incident, riders were arrested for violating local segregation ordinances- a direct violation of the Boynton decision.
Throughout the summer of 1961, more than 60 different Freedom Rides took place across the South. It is believed that nearly 450 individuals participated, white more than 300 being arrested. Included in those numbers were 15 students from Tennessee State University. They were members of the Nashville Student Group, a local group of students who had successfully desegregated the city's lunch counters and movie theaters.
The Tennessee State University Freedom Riders were featured in May 20008 issue of "O, The Oprah Magazine," where they were described as "human rights crusaders." (read the article)
America was a different nation 40 years ago. We were a nation divided, frightened by change and confused by progress. Despite the fact that it was a dark and troubling time, it was also a time of enlightenment for many young adults who cared enough about their cities, their states and their nation to fight for change; although history has shown that sometimes change comes at a high cost. It is hoped that the recognition being given to the Tennessee State Riders will serve to remind this generation of students of a time when young people were willing to risk reputations, careers, their freedom and their lives for a higher cause.