- Expected Apr 27, 2021
A firsthand exploration of the cost of boarding the bus of change to move America forward—written by one of the Civil Rights Movement's pioneers.
At 18, Charles Person was the youngest of the original Freedom Riders, key figures in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement who left Washington, D.C. by bus in 1961, headed for New Orleans. This purposeful mix of black and white, male and female activists—including future Congressman John Lewis, Congress of Racial Equality Director James Farmer, Reverend Benjamin Elton Cox, journalist and pacifist James Peck, and CORE field secretary Genevieve Hughes—set out to discover whether America would abide by a Supreme Court decision that ruled segregation unconstitutional in bus depots, waiting areas, restaurants, and restrooms nationwide.
Two buses proceeded through Virginia, North and South Carolina, to Georgia where they were greeted by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and finally to Alabama. There, the Freedom Riders found their answer: No. Southern states would continue to disregard federal law and use violence to enforce racial segregation. One bus was burned to a shell, its riders narrowly escaping; the second, which Charles rode, was set upon by a mob that beat several riders nearly to death.
Buses Are a Comin’ provides a front-row view of the struggle to belong in America, as Charles Person accompanies his colleagues off the bus, into the station, into the mob, and into history to help defeat segregation’s violent grip on African American lives. It is also a challenge from a teenager of a previous era to the young people of today: become agents of transformation. Stand firm. Create a more just and moral country where students have a voice, youth can make a difference, and everyone belongs.
Civil rights activist Person debuts with a striking personal history of the 1961 Freedom Rides in protest of the nonenforcement of Supreme Court rulings banning racial segregation on interstate transportation. The youngest participant at just 18 years old, Person describes vicious attacks by white supremacist mobs against the first two Freedom Rides. In Anniston, Ala., attackers held the doors of a Greyhound bus shut as they tried to burn its passengers alive; in Birmingham, Ala., public safety commissioner Bull Connor gave the Ku Klux Klan "fifteen uninterrupted minutes... to do whatever they wanted to the unwanted black bus riders and their white compatriots." Person colorfully evokes his impoverished childhood in Atlanta's Buttermilk Bottom neighborhood, his introduction to the civil rights movement at Morehouse College, and his shading of the truth ("It's not going to be dangerous") in order to get his father to sign a permission slip so he could participate in the inaugural Freedom Ride from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans. He also offers intimate sketches of his fellow Riders, including future congressman John Lewis. Shot through with vivid details of beatdowns, arrests, and awe-inspiring bravery, this inspirational account captures the magnitude of what the early civil rights movement was up against.