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Journalist, photographer reunite with activists
Freedom Riders discuss experiences at the University of Mary Washington

 Charles Person (left) talks with former Jet magazine photographer Theodore Gaffney (right), who documented the Freedom Riders' efforts.
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Date published: 4/1/2011


In a June 1, 1961, article for Jet magazine, Simeon Booker wrote that "a fist crashed against the head of Charles Person" on a bus in Alabama.

Booker was covering the 1961 Freedom Ride, when 13 civil rights activists--black and white--rode buses from Washington, D.C., to the Deep South to challenge segregation.

Person, then 18, was the youngest of the original riders. Booker wrote that Person and other Freedom Riders were beaten and "stacked like pancakes" on a bus in Anniston, Ala.

Person, Booker and Theodore Gaffney--who worked alongside Booker as a photographer for Jet magazine--were reunited this week at the University of Mary Washington, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides.

The initial May 1961 ride spurred other Freedom Rides in the Deep South. More than 400 people participated.

Person, who served in Vietnam, said the Freedom Ride made him stronger.

"I think I would not have survived Vietnam had it not been for my experience," he said. "I was cool--nothing rattled me in 'Nam."


The late James Farmer, who was a distinguished professor at Mary Washington from 1985 until 1998, led the movement to desegregate interstate buses and bus terminals.

Last night, Person and fellow Freedom Riders Catherine Burks-Brooks, Reginald Green and Joan Trumpauer Mulholland discussed their experiences in a program at Dodd Auditorium.

Raymond Arsenault, author of "Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice," led the talk.

Arsenault said last night that the Freedom Riders were the right people at the right time.

"It's a lesson for all of us that if you look inside your heart and really search for what you think is right, if you can find kindred spirits, you can do amazing things," he said.

On Wednesday, Freedom Riders and the Jet magazine journalists checked out a student-created exhibit and watched a screening of a PBS film called "Freedom Riders."

The exhibit in Dodd Auditorium's lobby includes life-size photographs. It also has a 1961 Jet magazine article by Booker headlined, "Alabama mob ambush bus, beat biracial group and burn bus," and a wooden segregation sign from the 1960s.

UMW senior Jordan Brothers said students created the exhibit for a museum lab. They purchased some of the items, including the Jet magazine article, on eBay.

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