On 60th Anniversary of Rides, Congressman Johnson Urges President Biden to Award Freedom Riders With Medal of Freedom

June 22, 2021
Press Release
Rep. Johnson Joined By More Than 40 Colleagues on Letter to White House

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congressman Hank Johnson (GA-04), Chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, sent a letter to President Joe Biden today urging the 46th President of the United States of America to honor the Freedom Riders with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

More than 40 members of Congress – including more than 15 members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) – joined Rep. Johnson on the letter.

The Freedom Rides, which lasted from May to November 1961, included more than 400 black and white Americans who risked their lives to challenge Jim Crow laws – particularly public transportation – in the South. Despite enduring vicious attacks and imprisonment for simply traveling together on buses and trains as they traveled through the Deep South, the Freedom Riders challenged bitter racism and mob violence with nonviolent activism.

“We are writing to urge you to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the Freedom Riders collectively for their heroic acts during the Civil Rights Movement. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the original Freedom Rides, which took place on May 4, 1961. Of the 13 original Freedom Riders, only two currently survive. Their heroism, sacrifice, and contribution to our country has improved the lives of millions, furthered the goal of equal rights, and has withstood the test of time. We owe these heroic Americans a debt of gratitude and believe they have earned our nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”

The two surviving members of the original Freedom Riders are Mr. Hank Thomas of Stone Mountain and Mr. Charles Person of Atlanta.

Cosigners include: Adams (NC), Bass, Bishop (GA), Blumenauer, Carson, Cicilline, Clarke, Connolly, Cooper, Davids, Davis, Dean, Dingell, Evans, Green, Grijalva, Hayes, Holmes Norton, Jayapal, Khanna, Langevin, Lee (CA), Lowenthal, Mace, Maloney (NY), McCollum, McGovern, Moore, Nadler, Pressley, Raskin, Rush, Schakowsky, Sewell, Sherman, Soto, Souzzi, Titus, Tlaib, Torres, Vargas, Williams (GA).

Read the full letter HERE and below.

June 22, 2021

President Joseph R. Biden

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW

Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Biden,

We are writing to urge you to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the Freedom Riders collectively for their heroic acts during the Civil Rights Movement. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the original Freedom Rides, which took place on May 4, 1961. Of the 13 original Freedom Riders, only two currently survive. Their heroism, sacrifice, and contribution to our country has improved the lives of millions, furthered the goal of equal rights, and has withstood the test of time. We owe these heroic Americans a debt of gratitude and believe they have earned our nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The Freedom Rides, which began with 13 men and women on May 4, 1961, ultimately lasted for seven months, from May to November 1961, and grew to include more than 400 Black and White Americans who risked their lives to challenge Jim Crow laws – particularly segregated public transportation and interstate travel – in the South. They traveled on regularly scheduled buses to test a 1960 Supreme Court decision that declared segregated facilities for interstate passengers to be illegal.

They protested segregated bus terminals, tried to use “whites-only” restrooms and lunch counters at bus stations in Alabama, South Carolina, and other Southern states. These heroic Americans were confronted by hostile police officers as well as horrific violence from white protestors along their routes. After news stories and photographs of burning buses and bloody attacks sped around the country, many more people came forward to risk their lives and challenge the racial status quo. Ultimately, they drew national and international attention to the Civil Rights Movement.

The 13 original Freedom Riders, who departed on the morning of May 4, 1961, were: Genevieve Hughes Houghton, Charles Person, Hank Thomas, the late Representative John Lewis, Edward Blankenheim, James Farmer, Walter Bergman, Frances Bergman, Joseph Perkins, Jimmy McDonald, Mae Francis Moultrie, Benjamin Elton Cox, and Albert Bigelow.

Mr. Person and Mr. Thomas are the only surviving original freedom riders. More than 400 Americans ultimately participated in subsequent freedom rides, demonstrating the deep commitment to improving racial equality and ending Jim Crow, and the power of

non-violent action.

The Freedom Riders’ contributions to the nonviolent Civil Rights Movement are exemplary and worth of the highest honors. We therefore recommend that the Freedom Riders receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Members of Congress

 

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