I won't say how old I was. But I will say it was on my birthday in 1961 that an Asian-American woman, an African-American woman, and two African-American men entered the Tri-State Trailways bus terminal at Jackson Mississippi. Mary Magdalene Harrison (pictured above), Elnora Price, Thomas Madison Armstrong III, and Joesph Ross, respectively. They were bound for New Orleans.
Not a situation that would be considered risky in U.S. bus terminals today by any standards. But a matter of life and death it was back then.
They were integrating a segregated bus terminal. A segregated bus terminal in Jackson, Mississippi on June 23, 1961. Fourteen years after Morgan v. Virginia. And four years before the Voting Rights Act. Somebody had to do it. A statement needed to be made.
Mary Magdalene Harrison, Elnora Price, Thomas Madison Armstrong III, and Joseph Ross made the statement when they attempted the 37th official interstate transit integration of the 1961 Freedom Ride campaign. However, they never made it to New Orleans.
Harrison, Price, Armstrong, and Ross were arrested at the Tri-State Terminal. Still, their act of defiance against the South's non-compliance with U.S. law still played a major part in moving justice forward.
What became of them? The whole world knows a galaxy's worth of information about a select few figures, the big names, of the civil rights movement. But not enough is known, let alone remembered, about its foot soldiers. While few of the works are extensive, a relatively small number of aficionados, journalists, and writers have produced Freedom Rider articles, interviews, and books. Without their passion and commitment, we'd know little to nothing about who these people were. And they deserve to be known.
My concern is how little we know, how little we learn, how little we remember. How much we should repeat, or emulate, and don't. And how much we repeat...that should just never be. It won't take anything away from us to learn a little bit about a few ordinary people who made a few extraordinary choices on our behalf. How they made them. And why. Especially at this time in U.S. history. As I access a little more about them, It's a privilege to bring you along with me.
Of the four activists mentioned here, which one was a student at Tennessee State University? Whose father was a chaplain? Which two were siblings? Who was a world-traveled Army brat from San Antonio and, at the time, also a student at the historically black Touglaoo College in Mississippi? What'll you find in the links above? I discovered it was the Freedom Rider who happened to be working as a teacher at an Army base in Germany when I happened to be a student and Army dependent at a base in Germany at about the same time. You might find your own personal connections.
So, which of the four spoke recently about racism still not being an easy problem to eliminate? I'd say it's a pretty stubborn virus. Seems there's still work to be done. You know that and I know that. Which of us will have the courage to get on the bus when it's time?