RICHMOND, Va. – Charles Reed Jr. skipped his college graduation ceremony to do something much more significant to him: retracing the original 1961 Freedom Ride and paying tribute to those who helped win the civil rights that his generation enjoys.
Reed says missing Friday’s graduation doesn’t compare to the sacrifices the original Freedom Riders made when they challenged the South’s segregation laws: quitting jobs, dropping out of college and, ultimately, risking their lives.
“What the Freedom Rides did 50 years ago paved the way for what I have today as an African-American,” said Reed, a 21-year-old business administration major at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg.
Reed is one of 40 college students chosen from nearly 1,000 applicants who will join a handful of the original Freedom Riders on an eight-day journey from Washington, D.C., through the South.
The students pulled up in their bus on Friday night to greet more than a dozen original Freedom Riders at the Newseum in Washington for the premiere of a new PBS documentary on the rides based on a book by Raymond Arsenault. They sang “Oh, Freedom” and other tunes together before viewing the film, which premieres Monday on public broadcast stations.
The documentary recounts the rides state by state and how they pushed President John F. Kennedy to advocate for civil rights. As a young rider, U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia said he “felt like a soldier in a nonviolent army,” though the rides were more confrontational than Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders would have preferred.
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