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May 4: Freedom Rides

Lawrence Bush
May 4, 2010

On this date, in 1961, the first Freedom Riders — seven African-Americans and six whites — set out in two buses from Washington D.C., headed for New Orleans, to challenge segregationist transportation laws that the Supreme Court had declared unconstitutional. One group was viciously attacked on Mother’s Day by a Ku Klux Klan mob in Anniston, Alabama, and their bus was set ablaze. The Freedom Riders persisted throughout the year, confronting violence and arrest with non-violent resistance that inspired tremendous courage among the Southern blacks who would be mobilized as the rank-and-file activists of the civil rights movement. Of some 440 Freedom Riders, half were white, and more than a quarter of these were Jewish.
“Please tell the Attorney General that we have been cooling off for 350 years. If we cool off any more, we will be in a deep freeze. The Freedom Ride will go on.” -James Farmer

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.