In 1961 they came from college campuses all over the country and here in Jackson to desegregate bus and train stations in the south. Facing beatings, death threats and prison they continued their fight for equality. This week the Freedom Riders are back in Jackson to remember and educate about the importance of their non violent protest against racism.
One by one the names of Freedom Riders from 1961 were called. Some of them from Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and New York.
The event Thursday night began with songs from the movement and then videos and interviews from some of the most violent times for the Freedom Riders.
A bus loaded with college students was firebombed, the doors blocked to trap them inside. They all escaped. Hank Thomas was on the bus.
"In Rock Hill, South Carolina, I had to run from the Klan. The Klan mob really wanted to lynch me and then again in Anniston, Alabama", said Thomas.
Thomas and his fellow Freedom Riders came to Jackson. They were arrested, sent to a judge and then to Parchman.
"Everything to humiliate you was done. We were, first of all, stripped naked and had to walk down a long corridor. That was part of the humiliation, that dehumanizing process", Thomas said.
Hezekiah Watkins, of Jackson, was 13 years old when he was arrested for trying to buy a ticket.
"I was taken to Parchman and put on death row", said Watkins.
Some of the Freedom Riders are hopeful students of today will also take up causes important to this country.
"We hope it motivates our young people to stand up again to those things that's worse in this country than ever", said New York Freedom Rider, Lewis Zuchman.
This program which was held at the historic Alamo Theater on Farish Street Thursday night, will be aired by Mississippi Public Broadcasting. The 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders will be observed next year in Jackson.
Hank Thomas was sentenced to six months in Parchman in a cell near the electric chair. The Mississippi Freedom 50th Foundation is coordinating the 50th anniversary celebration. It will honor the Freedom Riders, May 22 through the 28th, 2011 in Jackson.
©2010 WLBT. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.