In The News

Freedom Rider Recalls Dangerous Movement

This article originally appeared in WSIL-TV

CARBONDALE — It was a time in our nation’s history when people were savagely beaten and thrown in jail, just for riding the bus. Equal rights activists put their lives on the line to change this country. Saturday in Carbondale, many relived the struggles of the civil rights movement, through one of the women on the front lines.

Genevieve Houghton was sitting in the back of a bus in Alabama in 1961. She was part of a civil rights group called the Freedom Riders. They were openly violating Jim Crow Laws in the Deep South when members of the Ku Klux Klan slashed the bus’s tires.

“Surrounding it, closing the doors, holding them shut and finally putting a burning object in the rear and that caught the bus on fire,” Houghton described.

Houghton is featured prominently in the film “Freedom Riders.” Which was presented at the Varsity Center for the Arts in Carbondale Saturday.

“It’s a very important film about a time in history where people changed history,” said Kay Rippelmeyer of the Illinois Humanities Council.

From May to December 1961 more than 400 people, black and white, risked their lives, endured beatings and imprisonment all because they believed in equal rights.

“The bus drivers refused to drive, as one of them said, ‘you’re freedom riders, I am not, I have a family,'” Houghton said.

The Freedom Riders believed in non-violent activism. But they’re beliefs were tested by the mob violence and racism that greeted them along the way. 50 years later, Genevieve Houghton will never forget those harrowing eight months.

“We felt the time was right to try to get something that was perfectly legal and perfectly natural into force,” said Houghton.

The Freedom riders inspired many subsequent civil rights campaigns, including voter registration, freedom schools, and the black power movement.