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UMW grad boards 2011 Freedom Ride

May 9, 2011 12:15 am


Marty Wilder, UMW's chief of staff, hugs Joan Mulholland, an original Freedom Rider, yesterday. The group that is retracing the 1961 route, which includes a recent UMW grad, made its first stop at the Fredericksburg campus. lo050911freedom1121.jpg

Reed is the only Virginia student, and one of 40 college students nationwide, chosen to take the trip from Washington to New Orleans. lo050911freedom936.jpg

Charles Reed is greeted in front of UMW's Trinkle Hall yesterday after he got off the Student Freedom Ride bus. The UMW grad is in a PBS group retracing the 1961 ride that challenged segregated bus travel in the South.


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.

Speakers at yesterday's UMW stop talked at length about Farmer, who co-founded what became the Congress of Racial Equality. The event was the university's culmination of a semester-long tribute to the rides.

UMW professor Tim O'Donnell, who teaches a course on the Freedom Riders, played a recording of Farmer speaking to Mary Washington students.

"It brought tears to my eyes," Diamond said. "They say something like absence makes the heart grow fonder. After the Freedom Ride, I don't think I saw Jim Farmer more than three more times."

Diamond didn't graduate from college until five years after the rides.

Reed, on the other hand, received his degree in business administration despite missing Saturday's graduation. UMW surprised him with a personal commencement yesterday.

"Will the audience please stand for the conferring of the degree," said Hurley, standing in front of the Farmer bust.

He then presented Reed with a framed copy of his diploma. "I was very grateful," Reed said later. "It meant a lot."

He says he plans to find his passion in business and possibly pursue his MBA in a couple years. For now, he looks forward to learning from Freedom Riders such as Diamond.

And Diamond said he hopes the younger passengers "keep the message going."

"Unfortunately, kids today consider what is as what always was," he said. "I keep saying we've got to get this message to the younger generation. So just meeting these kids on the bus is a thing unto itself."

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402

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