Traveling the Freedom Riders' Route

Stops for history buffs include Montgomery's Greyhound Bus Station and other time-honored markers.

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Charlie Brand works on the Freedom Rides Museum before the
50th anniversary of the 1961 freedom rides. (The Washington Post)

(The Root) -- The Greyhound Bus Station on South Court Street in downtown Montgomery, Ala., was supposed to be an ordinary stop for freedom riders in May 1961 traveling through the Deep South to challenge segregation. But for the riders, and even their federal-appointed escort, mob violence altered their course, marking an important touchstone in the history of the nation's civil rights movement.

The 400 or so blacks and whites who over a period of about eight months set out to change a region separated by race on public transportation, traveled together on buses, blurring the color lines in a way not accepted at that time by the white majority. For that, they faced great resistance, violence and threats to their lives.

It takes more than 17 hours today to drive the 1,000 miles that stretch between the original freedom rides' starting point in Washington, D.C., and its final destination, New Orleans.

Today, more than 50 years after that spirited challenge, road trippers can visit museums, some historical markers and even digital exhibits that help retell the story for new generations.

The bus station in Montgomery where a mob used baseball bats, iron pipes and other objects to ambush the freedom riders while a white police force literally turned its head, is now a museum. The doors of the restored terminal opened to everyone in May 2011 to coincide with the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the rides, said Christy Carl, acting site director.

Located at 210 South Court Street, the Freedom Rides Museum is just a few blocks away from another museum related to transportation and civil rights -- the Rosa Parks Museum.

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 "Until they visit, many people don't realize while the Montgomery Bus Boycott cleared the way for blacks to ride on any seat on local transportation after 1955, blacks didn't have that same access on interstate transportation," Carl said. The federal courts in Boynton v. Virginia desegregated interstate transportation in 1960, but in the Deep South, it didn't matter. Blacks were relegated to the rear of the bus and were subjected to segregated restrooms and restaurants at bus and train terminals.

At the Montgomery Greyhound Bus Station, blacks would have to go around to a door just off of the loading dock to enter. A sign with 6-foot letters marked the Colored Entrance of the facility built in 1951, Carl said.

Greyhound relocated its station in 1996 and the building was acquired by the General Services Administration. But even before Greyhound left the building, the door of the Colored Entrance was bricked in, Carl said.

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