Sixty years ago this week, thirteen civil rights advocates set out from Washington, D.C. to desegregate interstate bus travel. The Freedom Riders made their first stop in Fredericksburg.
Chris Williams is with the Multi-Cultural Center at the University of Mary Washington. It’s named for James Farmer –an organizer of the Freedom Rides and a mentor to Williams, who met him in 1996.
“He had lost his eyesight to diabetes, and he was using a wheelchair primarily to get around," Williams recalls, "but it was his voice and his spirit that really captured my attention when I first met him. I was really in awe.”
The Freedom Riders left Washington, D.C. and stopped first at the Greyhound bus station in Fredericksburg, which – in defiance of a supreme court ruling – was still segregated.
“So there were colored restrooms, colored waiting room, lunch counter," Williams explains. "Also, Fredericksburg was one of the battles where the Confederacy pretty much destroyed the Union.”
There and at stops in Richmond, Lynchburg, Farmville and Danville the freedom riders were ignored. Not so in the Carolinas.
“It wasn’t until they got to Charlotte when the first arrests occurred," says Williams. "Rock Hill, South Carolina was the first time that they were brutalized and attacked, and then it got worse when they got to Alabama.”
To commemorate the historic ride, Williams and other community organizers unveiled a temporary marker at the bus station in Fredericksburg Tuesday. The finished sign will be installed this fall.