Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice

By Raymond Arsenault | Go to book overview

7
Freedom's Coming and It Won't Be Long

We took a trip on a Greyhound bus,
Freedom's coming and it won't be long.
To fight segregation where we must,
Freedom's coming and it won't be long.
Freedom, give us freedom,
Freedom's coming and it won't be long.

—1961 "calypso" freedom song1

THE FEDERAL PRESENCE in Alabama and Mississippi was both everywhere and nowhere on Wednesday morning, May 24. Having asserted the power and authority of the national government, the Kennedy administration had withdrawn, at least temporarily, to the sidelines. The short-term, if not the ultimate, fate of the Freedom Ride had been placed in the hands of state officials who, paradoxically, had promised to protect both the safety of the Riders and the sanctity of segregation. When the Trailways group of Freedom Riders left Dr. Harris's house at 6:15 A.M., they were escorted by a half-dozen jeeps driven by Alabama National Guardsmen. This unimpressive show of force raised a few eyebrows among the Riders, who knew next to nothing about the details of the plan to protect them. But as the convoy approached the downtown Trailways terminal, the familiar outline of steel-helmeted soldiers came into view. In and around the terminal, more than five hundred heavily armed Guardsmen stood watch over several clusters of white bystanders. Although the Freedom Riders did not know it, there were also several FBI agents and plainclothes detectives nervously wandering through the crowd.

As the Freedom Riders filed out of their cars, the scene was tense but quiet until the crowd spotted King, who, along with Abernathy, Shuttlesworth, and Walker, had agreed to accompany the Riders to the terminal. Still uncomfortable with his refusal to join the Ride, King was determined to provide the

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Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Also by Raymond Arsenault ii
  • Pivotal Moments in American History iii
  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Editors' Note xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1: You Don't Have to Ride Jim Crow 11
  • 2: Beside the Weary Road 56
  • 3: Hallelujah! I'M A-Travelin' 93
  • 4: Alabama Bound 140
  • 5: Get on Board, Little Children 177
  • 6: If You Miss Me from the Back of the Bus 209
  • 7: Freedom's Coming and It Won't Be Long 259
  • 8: Make Me a Captive, Lord 304
  • 9: Ain't Gonna Let No Jail House Turn Me 'Round 343
  • 10: Woke Up This Morning with My Mind on Freedom 382
  • 11: Oh, Freedom 424
  • Epilogue: Glory Bound 477
  • Acknowledgments 527
  • Appendix: Roster of Freedom Riders 533
  • Notes 588
  • Bibliography 653
  • Index 680
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