Chapel Hill gets a historic marker for the first freedom ride

[1947 freedom riders]Did you know that the first civil rights "freedom ride" took place in 1947, fourteen years before the 1961 riders captured the nation's attention by exposing the brutality of Jim Crow in the South? The Journey of Reconciliation was organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which was born at the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), and was led by FOR staff members Bayard Rustin and George Houser.

The interracial group of nine men on the Journey of Reconciliation set out from Washington, D.C. on April 9th, 1947. They met some resistance from passengers and drivers on buses in Virginia and North Carolina. But when they attempted to sit at the front of a bus in Chapel Hill on April 12th, the driver refused, and removed some of the riders by force. They were then attacked by angry cab drivers at the Chapel Hill bus station, and arrested by local police. Their subsequent time serving on a chain gang led Rustin to write about the experience. His serialized journal led to major reforms in the North Carolina prison system.

[historic marker]There are so many fascinating parts of this story. Please read Yonni Chapman's narrative to learn more about the context and outcome of this journey.

Next week, a state historic marker will be installed in Chapel Hill to commemorate the Journey of Reconciliation.  The event will be an opportunity to remember the horrors of Jim Crow past, and to look forward at the racial justice challenges of our future. Click the titles below to learn more and RSVP for these events (most are also listed in the OP calendar).

  • Chapel Hill, Jim Crow, and the Freedom Riders: commemoration and racial justice today.
    Thursday 2/26, 5:30pm, at the Hitchcock Room, Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History
  • Screening & discussion: "You Don't have to Ride Jim Crow."
    Thursday 2/26, 7pm, at the Horace Williams House
    Watch the documentary and discuss Chapel Hill's civil rights history with filmmaker Robin Washington.
    Sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Preservation Society of Chapel Hill, and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP.
  • Nonviolent direct action organizing, then and now.
    Friday 2/27, time and location TBA
    A discussion of old tactics and new frontiers with Robin Washington.
    Sponsored by FOR.
  • Day of Commemoration and Re-dedication.
    Saturday 2/28, noon - 4pm, at Hargraves Community Center and Chapel Hill Town Hall.
    Freedom Riders in Chapel Hill 1947-2009: The Struggle for Racial Justice Continues.
    Sponsored by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP and the Community Church, with support from the Town of Chapel Hill.

I am helping to organize these events because I believe in the power of nonviolent direct action to bring about justice.  I want others to remember this powerful legacy and to be inspired about the change we can continue to make happen today. I hope you will join me.

This post was written while wearing my work hat: Communications Co-Director for the Fellowship of Reconciliation. I love it when worlds collide!



Y'all don't forget to come and meet Robin Washington, the maker of "You Don't have to Ride Jim Crow."  It's a one-hour documetary about the Journey of Reonciliation featuring a lot of footage and information about the attack in Chapel Hill. I previewed it last night and it's very good. I'll be there for the reception starting at 7:00, and the film is at 7:30.

Since three generations of current and former Fellowship of Reconciliation staff members will be in town for tomorrow's ceremony unveiling a new historic marker at the corner of Rosemary and Colombia Streets, we have decided to organize an informal salon discussion about the Journey of Reconciiliation, FOR, and nonviolent direct action organizing.

We will meet at 7pm tonight at the Franklin Hotel to watch a short video of Jim Farmer talking about the first CORE sit in (in Chicago in 1942).  Where the discussion goes from there is up to the partcipants.

Click to learn more and RSVP if you're interested.

Some folks have been asking so I wanted to share this message from Yonni Chapman, the organizer of today's events:

Our big day of Commemoration and Re-dedication is tomorrow, rain or shine. The one concession we may have to make to severe weather--if necessary-- is that the march will by-pass the dedication and gather for 5 minutes for the unveiling by the bus stop on Columbia and Rosemary. We will then proceed directly to Town Hall, where the dedication will take place.

Thank you all for great work and dedication! I want to personally thank all of the NAACP members, the members of UNC-NOW, the Town and town staff members, the Community Church, and all the others whose work and financial support made these events possible.

I hope to see some of you there.


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