The 1947 Freedom Riders convictions were overturned in North Carolina

Legendary civil rights activist Bayard Rustin and three other men sentenced to work in a chain gang in North Carolina after starting the first of the “freedom rides” to challenge Jim Crow’s laws will have their prison sentences increased on Friday than seven decades, repealed posthumously later.

“As this trial takes place 75 years after the injustice occurred, we should never falter in investigating past injustices, demanding redress, and lifting these heavy burdens from our hearts and minds so that future generations may experience justice,” Renée Price , chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, said in a statement.

On April 9, 1947, a group of eight whites and eight blacks launched the first “Freedom Ride” to challenge laws prohibiting segregation on buses in defiance of the US Supreme Court’s Morgan v. Virginia of 1946, which declared segregation in interstate travel unconstitutional.


The men boarded buses in Washington, DC and set off on a two-week route that included stops in Durham, Chapel Hill and Greensboro, North Carolina. When drivers attempted to board the bus in Chapel Hill, some of them were forcibly removed and attacked by a group of angry taxi drivers. Four of the so-called Freedom Riders – Andrew Johnson, James Felmet, Bayard Rustin and Igal Roodenko – were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for refusing to move away from the front of the bus.

After a trial in Orange County, the four men were found guilty and sentenced to serve in a chain gang. Rustin later published writings about imprisonment and forced labor for participating in the first freedom ride, also known as the Journey of Atonement.

In 1942, five years before the Chapel Hill episode, Rustin was beaten and sent to prison by police officers in Nashville, Tennessee after refusing to board the back of a bus he was taking from Louisville, Kentucky , wrote author Raymond Arsenault in the book Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Fight for Racial Justice. A pioneer of the civil rights movement, Rustin was an advisor to the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and was instrumental in organizing the March on Washington in 1963.


dr Adriane Lentz-Smith, associate professor and associate professor in the history department at Duke University, described Rustin as “a herald and shaper of the 1960s movement.” But Lentz-Smith said his role in the fight eventually diminished over fears that his homosexuality and a former Communist Party member could harm the movement.

“He was deliberately kept out of the spotlight,” Lentz-Smith said. “The very things that make him remarkable and admirable to us … in 2022 made him deeply vulnerable,” she said at the time.

Last month, five circuit court judges marked the 75th anniversary of the arrest of Rustin and the three other men in Chapel Hill by issuing an apology.

“The Orange County Court was on the wrong side of the law and on the wrong side of history in May 1947,” the statement said. “Today we stand before our community on behalf of all five District Judges for Orange and Chatham counties and accept the responsibility entrusted to us to do our part to eliminate racial disparities in our justice system.”

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https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/06/17/freedom-riders-1947-convictions-vacated-in-north-carolina/ The 1947 Freedom Riders convictions were overturned in North Carolina

Sarah Y. Kim

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