New museum to memorialize 'Freedom Riders', civil rights heroes of the South

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Fifty years ago, on a hot day in late May, 21 tousled men and women stepped off a Greyhound bus and into the clamor of the Montgomery, Ala., bus depot. They called themselves the Freedom Riders, and for the previous few weeks, they had been hurtling by coach through the American South, from Washington, D.C., to Virginia; from Virginia to North Carolina; and from North Carolina over into Tennessee.

They were students, most of them, black and white, 20- and 30-somethings, schooled in the ways of nonviolent protest and encouraged by the recent success of the Greensboro, N.C., lunch counter sit-ins. Their aim was to test a Supreme Court ruling banning segregation at bus and railway stations – a ruling that had largely been greeted with a shrug by Southern officials....

Now, a half century after the Freedom Riders first arrived in this city, the Montgomery bus depot has been converted, with the help of the Alabama Historical Commission and historians, such as Raymond Arsenault, into the Freedom Rides Museum – a timely monument to a groundbreaking journey.

In fact, says Dr. Arsenault, the John Hope Franklin professor of Southern history at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, and the author of a critically acclaimed book on the Freedom Riders, it is no stretch to say that the protests in Alabama helped change the tone for the racial equality movement as a whole....

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