Students retrace original Freedom Rider route

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Fifty years ago, the Freedom Riders made their way through the south challenging local laws that were keeping buses and bus stations segregated.

Now, Montgomery native Stephanie Burton has a chance to re-live that experience as 40 students from colleges across the United States retrace the route of the original Freedom Riders.

"It's almost like a right of passage," says Burton.

She's a student at Florida A&M University and met up with her parents while in Montgomery.

"We're really pleased for her to have this direct opportunity. It's just wonderful," says her mother, Carole Burton.

Burton and the others visited the Civil Rights Memorial Center--reflecting on the era's timeline and hearing about the presence of hate groups in America.

But perhaps one of the best opportunities was learning from original Freedom Riders accompanying them on the trip.

"This is a very special group of kids," says Jim Zwerg.

Zwerg tells of being beaten when his Freedom Rider bus arrived in Montgomery.

"I got pulled over a railing, thrown to the ground, was on all fours trying to get back to the group and got kicked in my spine. I don't know if that's when I got my vertebrae broken, but I had three vertebrae broken. I flew forward, fell on my back and that's basically the last thing I remember."

Zwerg's courageous story helps the 40 students understand how influential his and others' actions were to preserving their rights.

"Their story has inspired me to become more aware of my moral obligation," says Burton.

The group made a stop at the Montgomery Greyhound station where Zwerg and his fellow riders were beaten that day. Zwerg says when he thinks about passing the torch to a new generation of leaders, he couldn't ask for a better group of students.

Copyright 2011 WSFA. All rights reserved.