Well, I started this book about 36 hours ago, and I'm now finished.
I'm well versed in the story of the Freedom Rides. I read a full book outlining the events when I was younger, I have taken more than one class on the Civil Rights movement, and have shown more than one documentary in class. Still, the gripping account of Charles Person's experience with the Freedom Rides during the Civil Rights movement enthralled me from cover to cover. The authenticity in his story and in the emotion he relays is unparalleled. It's one of the best historical memoirs I've read.
For instance, in one section, Person explains the fear one feels when one encounters pure racial hate. As he notes, " If you want to know what Anniston felt like when our bus arrived, go to the deadly sites- the deadly nights - of the Civil Rights Era... fix your thoughts on what it must have been like on each of those solemn, horrific, now sacred, nights. Stand still..." He then goes on to describe the racial violence the Freedom Riders encountered when they arrived in Anniston, Alabama. Person discusses many accounts of violent attacks and many accounts of friendship, bravery, and true white allyship. Still, it's the way he describes them that makes this book enthralling and timeless. It's simply a must-read.
More people should be talking about and reading this book. It is one of the best accounts I've read that draws a throughline between the protests of the Civil Rights era to today. If you teach U.S. History, grab a copy of this book, display it in your classroom, and share the story with students. You can read sections to a full class and I have no doubt that it will keep their attention.
From the publisher, “A firsthand exploration of the cost of boarding the bus of change to move America forward―written by one of the Civil Rights Movement’s pioneers.
At 18, Charles Person was the youngest of the original Freedom Riders, key figures in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement who left Washington, D.C. by bus in 1961, headed for New Orleans. This purposeful mix of black and white, male and female activists―including future Congressman John Lewis, Congress of Racial Equality Director James Farmer, Reverend Benjamin Elton Cox, journalist and pacifist James Peck, and CORE field secretary Genevieve Hughes―set out to discover whether America would abide by a Supreme Court decision that ruled segregation unconstitutional in bus depots, waiting areas, restaurants, and restrooms nationwide.
Two buses proceeded through Virginia, North and South Carolina, to Georgia where they were greeted by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and finally to Alabama. There, the Freedom Riders found their answer: No. Southern states would continue to disregard federal law and use violence to enforce racial segregation. One bus was burned to a shell, its riders narrowly escaping; the second, which Charles rode, was set upon by a mob that beat several riders nearly to death.
Buses Are a Comin’ provides a front-row view of the struggle to belong in America, as Charles Person accompanies his colleagues off the bus, into the station, into the mob, and into history to help defeat segregation’s violent grip on African American lives. It is also a challenge from a teenager of a previous era to the young people of today: become agents of transformation. Stand firm. Create a more just and moral country where students have a voice, youth can make a difference, and everyone belongs.”