CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - In May 1961, a group of six blacks and seven whites boarded buses in Washington, D.C., for the original Freedom Ride, designed to test the legality of "separate but equal" facilities in interstate public travel in the South. The riders would never reach New Orleans, their intended destination, as they would be stopped along the way by angry mobs, severe beatings and the firebombing of one bus.
Three of the original Freedom Riders will be reuniting on Oct. 18 to talk about those experiences and others related to the civil rights movement. Their panel discussion, "Dialogues With Original Freedom Riders," will start at 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium of Lincoln Hall, 702 S. Wright St., Urbana. The event is free and open to the public.
Among those participating in the panel will be the Rev. Ben Cox, a former teacher at Urbana High School, as well as in the university's Principal's Scholars Program and Office of Continuing Education. Joining him will be fellow riders Ed Blakenheim and Hank Thomas.
The discussion is part of a 35th anniversary weekend commemoration of Project 500, a university equal opportunity initiative that brought to campus more than 500 African-American and Latino students in 1968. It is also part of the campus's Brown v. Board of Education Jubilee Commemoration, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1954 Supreme Court decision that ended legal segregation in public schools.
Cox, who lives in Tennessee, will remain in Champaign-Urbana through Oct. 24, giving presentations both on campus and in the community.
Updates on future events and activities related to the Brown commemoration can be found online.