Two former Freedom Riders to be featured at public event in Auburn Feb. 22

Published: February 07, 2017
Updated: June 21, 2017
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In recognition of Black History Month, the Auburn Alumni Association will host Freedom Riders Bill Harbour and Charles Person in a free public event Feb. 22, from 4-6 p.m., at The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center. Harbour and Person will offer accounts of their experiences as civil rights activists who rode interstate buses through the segregated southern United States in the early 1960s.

The event will be streamed live on the Auburn Alumni Association’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/AuburnAlumniAssociation/ for those who are unable to attend.

Harbour and Person endured beatings, bombings, harassment and imprisonment—but they changed the Civil Rights Movement and demonstrated the power of individual actions to transform the nation.

In 1961, Civil Rights activists organized by the Congress of Racial Equality rode interstate buses deep into the heart of segregated America to challenge local laws and customs that denied ordinary citizens basic freedoms because of the color of their skin. The 1960 Supreme Court Decision Boynton v. Virginia granted them the legal right to buy tickets for buses and sit where they’d like, but all were aware they would face violence and vitriol in the fight to end white supremacy.

Harbour was only 19 when he traveled to Rock Hill, South Carolina, to serve jail time in solidarity with the “Rock Hill Nine” who were imprisoned for a lunch counter sit-in. Harbour was the first to exit the Nashville Movement Freedom Ride when it arrived at the Montgomery Greyhound Bus Station. He was met immediately by a mob of more than 200 people wielding lead pipes and baseball bats, but escaped with his life. A native of Piedmont, Alabama, Harbour lives in Atlanta and serves as the unofficial archivist of the Freedom Rider Movement.

Person, an Atlanta native, was the youngest member of the 1961 Congress of Racial Equality’s inaugural Freedom Ride at only 18. A gifted math and physics student who dreamed of a career as a scientist but who was refused admission to the Georgia Institute of Technology, Person became active in civil disobedience around Atlanta while attending Morehouse College, serving a 16-day jail sentence for sitting at a segregated lunch counter. Person was one of the most severely beaten Freedom Riders at the Birmingham Trailways Bus Station riot on May 14, 1961. Person enlisted in the Marines in late 1961 and retired after two decades of service. He now works in the Atlanta public school system as a technology supervisor.

On Jan. 12, 2017, then-President Barack Obama approved three Civil Rights monuments, including 5.6 acres of parkland in Alabama on the site of the historic Greyhound Bus Station in Anniston as the Freedom Riders National Monument, an official part of the National Park Service. The park will be developed at the bus station where an angry mob attacked a Greyhound bus carrying seven Freedom Riders on Mother’s Day, 1961, to the grocery store grounds where their bus was famously set on fire, strengthening the Freedom Riders’ resolve in the process. Planning and design for the Freedom Riders National Monument are now under way.