American Notebook: The Cost Of Freedom Rides

American Notebook: The Cost Of Freedom Rides

In the 1920s and 30s it cost something to maintain one’s posture as a believer in civil rights. Radicals were personally involved in and were dunned incessantly in campaigns for strikes in the South, sharecroppers’ relief, and the defense of victims of racial injustice. In the leftwing parties regular contributions were expected of members on the basis of a sliding percentage of their incomes. Every meeting and social affair meant digging down for additional contributions, and if they weren’t quickly forthcoming, good-natured banter and tireless haranguing were sure to follow. This may or may not have been an exciting and romantic period for radicals and liberals, but there is no question that it was an expensive one. Causes were supported with more than words.

In the light of this record it is particularly surprising and distressing to note that liberal, socialist and democratic trade union organizations have been so backward in coming to the support of the recent struggle for human dignity and civil rights in the South.

To date 297 Freedom Riders have been arrested in Jackson, Mississippi, for “disturbance of the peace.” The involved legal proceedings take a little explanation. All the Freedom Riders who were arrested were brought before a local Jackson City court which is technically not a court of record. They were charged with disturbing the peace and given the alternative of posting bail until their hearing was set in a court of record, or serving a major part of their sentence in jail (45 days) before they could even obtain a hearing. Most of the Freedom Riders elected to follow the latter course in order to dramatize their fight, but in effect it meant that they were suffering the major portion of the penalty for a crime they had allegedly committed before being given an opportunity to defend themselves in court. Individual trials have been scheduled from the middle of August to January of next year. All 297 Freedom Riders had to be present in Jackson in August for the hearings where the trial dates were set (which meant an additional trip back there for most), and of course those whose trials are set ahead were not able to stay over for them, but will have to return to Jackson still again to stand trial. Most of these Freedom Riders have been students or individuals of modest means who are usually not in a position to meet all the expenses involved. The first cost is transportation from their homes to the southern city from where the Freedom Ride will be launched. Sometimes board and room expenses are involved while completing tactical non-violent training for the protest, or simply waiting to coordinate a delayed departure. Then there is the bus fare to the destination where the protest is to be made. Arrests normally followed the arrival of the riders in Jackson and here legal expenses for all and bail bonds for some were involved. By the end of July, 1961, CORE (Congress of Racial Equal...

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