Renowned civil rights activist, Congressman John Lewis, D-Ga., will relive that nightmarish, bloodbath of a trip through Jackson, Miss. he made a half-century ago when the nation observes the 50th anniversary of the famous Mississippi Freedom Rides on May 22–28, 2011.
Joining Lewis will be other distinguished members of congress, including House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C.; Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.; and Bob Filner, D-Calif.
“The Freedom Rides did not just liberate the state of Mississippi and my state of Alabama — they liberated the South and a nation,” Lewis said. “It is fitting and appropriate that we all go back to Mississippi to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides.”
Lewis and others, including some whites, boarded that doomed bus for Jackson, knowing they were going to be beaten and possibly killed in order to procure freedom, justice and equality for all black people. Their suspicions proved harrowingly accurate as the bus was firebombed by the Ku Klux Klan and other virulently anti-black brigades. They were mercilessly beaten by mobs who wielded bats, metal pipes, chains and other deadly weapons. Even white reporters and legislators who came to cover the event or plead for peace were beaten savagely by the racist throngs.
Clyburn implored the nation, particularly African Americans, to remain cognizant of the supreme sacrifices that were made and required to change a nation that was violently opposed to the obliteration of segregation.
“This will be a celebration, of course, but more importantly it will be an opportunity to educate our young people and to make certain that we not let this part of American history be lost to future generations,” he said. “I think it’s important for us to pause to have this day and to spend the next year reminding those who are destined to come after us of what can happen if we lost vigilance.”
Lewis and Filner, who were among the valiant 1961 Freedom Riders, are honorary co-chairs of the national board of directors of the Mississippi Freedom 50th Foundation, Inc. The 2011 event will celebrate and honor the 1961 Freedom Riders for their courageous actions and enormous sacrifice. –terry shropshire