May marked the 50th anniversary of the first Freedom Ride. The media noted this in its broadcasts and programming. Oprah invited all living Freedom Riders to join her for a special taping.

The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) employed Freedom Rides as a new tactic “aimed at desegregating public transportation throughout the South.” The first Riders were seven blacks and six whites, who departed from Washington, D.C. on public buses.

Freedom Rides were inspired by the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation (JOR) a journey that tested an earlier Supreme Court ruling that banned racial discrimination in Interstate travel. JOR participants were arrested and sentenced to a chain gang for violating North Carolina’s Jim Crow laws.

The Freedom Riders rode various forms of public transportation in the South, having at least one interracial pair sitting in adjoining seats and at least one black Rider sitting up front where blacks where not supposed to sit. In order to avoid arrest and be able to contact CORE to arrange bail for those arrested, one Rider always obeyed the South’s laws of segregated seating.

During their second week of travel, riders were beaten severely. Outside one town in Alabama, a riders’ bus was burned. In Birmingham, Riders were attacked by dozens of whites. The media broadcast these attacks. Almost all of the riders were evacuated from Birmingham to New Orleans through the intervention of the U.S. Justice Department. John Lewis (present day congressman) was one of the riders who remained. “CORE leaders decided that letting violence end the trip would send the wrong signal to the country.” Volunteers came forth to accompany the remaining riders, and the trip continued. They were attacked by a mob of more than 100 whites in Montgomery, Alabama. The media broadcast these attacks. National outcry supporting the riders put pressure on President John F. Kennedy to end the violence. “President Kennedy called for a ‘cooling off period’ and condemned the rides as unpatriotic because they embarrassed the nation on the world stage at the height of the cold war. Attorney General Robert Kennedy – the chief law-enforcement officer of the land – was quoted as saying that he does not feel that the Department of Justice can side with one group or the other in disputes over Constitutional rights.”

CORE, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and The Southern Christian Leadership Conference ( SCLC) rejected any cooling off period. The riders continued to Mississippi, where they encountered more brutality and jail terms. The media broadcast these attacks which brought about more Freedom rides and protests at train stations, airports, hotels, restaurants, and large businesses. In November, the Interstate Commerce Commission issued rules prohibiting segregated transportation facilities. (Wikipedia)’”

During the Freedom Rides and Civil Rights movements of the 60’s, people were maimed and killed. If war is defined as “conflict carried on by force of arms, active hostility or contention” and Freedom Riders and other Civil rights activists were beaten with clubs, shot, hung, burned, attacked by dogs and water hoses, was not the Civil Rights movement a war?

Memorial Day is approaching and since it is a day set aside to commemorate those who died while serving our country, we Americans should on this day commemorate those Civil Rights participants who died serving our country while fighting for freedom for all.

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...