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A UMW graduate and 39 other students from across the country are retracing the route of the original Freedom Ride
Date published: 5/9/2011
Charles Reed was among the University of Mary Washington's more than 1,000 graduates this year.
But he missed Saturday's commencement.
Reed was in Washington preparing to retrace the route of the first Freedom Ride in May 1961 with 39 other students from across the country. The trip was organized by PBS' "American Experience" to celebrate the rides' 50th anniversary.
"These original Freedom Riders really stopped their college education to get on the bus and fight for freedom and equal rights for African-Americans," said Reed, past president of UMW's Black Student Association and the only Virginia student chosen for the ride. "That sacrifice is much more profound or important than me not walking for my graduation."
The first stop of the 2011 Student Freedom Ride bus was yesterday at UMW's Fredericksburg campus. Several Freedom Riders joined students on the trip, which ends in New Orleans next Monday.
The bus pulled up near a bust of James Farmer, who led the Freedom Rider movement to desegregate interstate buses and bus terminals. Farmer, a Spotsylvania County resident who died in 1999, was a distinguished professor at Mary Washington for 14 years.
"Welcome to Fredericksburg!" a UMW official shouted as students got off the bus. Onlookers cheered as Reed stepped off wearing a shirt and tie.
Of course, Freedom Riders received a much different reception in 1961.
"Our experience being on the bus will definitely be a total 180. We won't be facing the type of humiliation and discrimination and violence that they faced," Reed said in an interview last week.
Dion Diamond, who was one of more than 400 Freedom Riders, said he was met by police officers when he got off a Greyhound bus in Jackson, Miss.
They said: "Move on, move on, and then straight into the paddy wagon," said Diamond, 69, who is participating in the PBS ride. At the time, he was a physics major at Howard University.
"I left there supposedly for a long weekend," he said. "I thought I'd be in class on a Tuesday morning at the latest."
Instead, he spent 59 days in jail. For 28 of those days, he was Farmer's cell mate in Parchman State Penitentiary.