Back in 1961, Jim Crow customs ruled the Deep South. Despite a Supreme Court ruling making segregation on interstate buses illegal, black passengers were still expected to sit at the back.
The Freedom Riders refused to abide by convention, infuriating the white supremacists of the Ku Klux Klan.
On 14 May, a white mob attacked a Greyhound bus carrying Hank Thomas and six other activists as well as regular passengers, near Anniston, Alabama.
Hezekiah Watkins was one of the Freedom Riders Its tyres were slashed, and the bus hissed to a halt. A firebomb was lobbed through the back window, filling the air with poisonous smoke.
"I knew I was going to die," recalls Thomas, aged 19 at the time. "It was a question of the best way to do it: leave the bus and be beaten to death, or stay and burn?"
An exploding fuel tank saved his life. The crowd retreated, allowing the suffocating passengers to clamber free.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Freedom Riders reunite after 50 years
The BBC has an article on the reuniting of the original Freedom Riders in Jackson, Mississippi, last week: