On Friday, more than seven decades after they began the first of the “freedom rides” to oppose Jim Crow laws, Bayard Rustin and three other men who were sentenced to work on a chain gang in North Carolina will have their sentences annulled posthumously.
Renée Price, the chairman of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, issued a statement in which she said, “Even though this legal action is being taken 75 years after the injustice occurred, we should never falter in examining past wrongs, seeking reparation, and lifting those heavy burdens from our hearts and minds so that future generations may know justice.”
In violation of the 1946 Morgan v. Virginia decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that segregation on interstate travel was unconstitutional, a group of eight Black men and eight white men started the first “freedom ride” on April 9, 1947, to protest laws that required segregation on buses.
The men boarded buses in Washington, D.C., setting out on a two-week route that included stops in Durham, Chapel Hill, and Greensboro, North Carolina. As the riders attempted to board the bus in Chapel Hill, several of them were removed by force and attacked by a group of angry cab drivers. Four of Freedom Riders — Andrew Johnson, James Felmet, Bayard Rustin, and Igal Roodenko — were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for refusing to move from the front of the bus.