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Freedom Riders movement celebrates 60th anniversary

Published: May. 4, 2021 at 6:56 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - A major part of civil rights history came alive Tuesday in Montgomery - a ceremony to honor what happened 60 years ago this month.

Bernard Lafayette remembers it all too well.

“And they kicked me in the ribs,” said Lafayette, who said he had three cracked ribs.

Lafayette was all of 21 years old. He was on board a Greyhound bus during the growing but dangerous civil rights movement. Lafayette and more than 20 other riders got a “greeting” at the bus terminal that shocked the country. They were attacked by members of the Ku Klux Klan, assaulted with baseball bats, wooden boards and bricks.

“And I was thinking that I was going to be kicked and pushed over that rail,” Lafayette recalled.

They were part of a larger group of Freedom Riders, a movement that eventually ended segregation in interstate travel.

“This district is where history lives and where history is preserved,” said Rep. Terri Sewell who represents the seventh congressional district.

On Tuesday, local and congressional leaders honored the blood spilled and the sacrifice with an old familiar tune.

“Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around,” retired educator Beverly Bassett sang during the program.

The celebration took place in the shadow of the federal courthouse in front of the Freedom Rides Museum.

“But will help others and that truly is the message of the civil rights movement,” said U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson.

Lafayette says he has no ill will towards the very people who beat him 60 years ago. Sixty years later, he’s long recovered and moved on.

“No because our training helped us learn how to deal with people who were different from us,” he said.

With the remembrance and a replica of the bus of that time period, Lafayette went back in history and helped bring it home, home to the very place where courage won the day.

The vintage Greyhound bus was donated by the Greyhound Bus Museum in Hibbing, Minnesota. The bus features the original color scheme from the 1950s and 1960s, historic seats, luggage compartment and windows along with updated features, such as heating and air and power steering.

The bus is now a permanent part of the Freedom Rides Museum, but when it’s not in use or being toured it will remain on a lot owned by the city of Montgomery.

The Alabama Historical Commission secured a $200,000 grant to restore it.

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