This is part two of a two part series.
On May 4, 1961, a group of 13 African-American and white civil rights activists launched the Freedom Rides, a series of bus trips through the American South to protest segregation in interstate bus terminals. The Freedom Riders, who were recruited by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a U.S. civil rights group, departed from Washington, D.C., and attempted to integrate facilities at bus terminals along the way into the Deep South. African-American Freedom Riders tried to use “whites-only” restrooms and lunch counters, and vice versa. The group encountered tremendous violence from white protestors along the route, but also drew international attention to their cause. Over the next few months, several hundred Freedom Riders engaged in similar actions. In September 1961, the Interstate Commerce Commission issued regulations prohibiting segregation in bus and train stations nationwide.
Dr. David Fankhauser, 73, a professor at the University of Cincinnati, the Clermont Branch, was part of the second wave of mostly college students who traveled south as a Freedom Rider. He was a student at Central State College in Wilberforce, Ohio, an historically black college. He and another white Central State student flew on May 24, 1961, answering the call from revered student organizer Diane Nash for fresh troops, to Montgomery Alabama, and stayed at Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s home where they and other Riders strategized for several days with him, MLK and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. They decided that now the Riders must be willing to fill up southern jails for the maximum stay of 40 days before bailing out. David was arrested in Jackson, Mississippi, for sitting in a “colored” waiting room while riding a Trailways bus bound for New Orleans. He spent the next 42 days first in the Jackson City Jail and later the notorious Mississippi Parchman Penitentiary, 140 miles from Jackson in the Mississippi Delta.
The Freedom Riders in his cell block, including now Congressman John Lewis, hunger struck for nearly two weeks and sung freedom songs incessantly to hold their spirits, and the guards retaliated by leaving them only their underwear and taking their toothbrushes, mattresses, even the screens from the windows.
When released on July 9, David rode a train back to Cincinnati’s Union Terminal where he was hoisted on the shoulders of local civil rights activists and carried through the building in a hero’s welcome.
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