University of Mary Washington senior Charles S. Reed Jr. is the sole Virginia student—and one of only 40 U.S. college students—chosen through a nationwide competition to retrace the historic route of the original 1961 Freedom Rides that challenged segregated bus travel in the South.
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Reed and others selected for the 2011 Student Freedom Ride will join original Freedom Riders aboard the PBS “American Experience” bus for the May 6-16 trip from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans. The bus will stop at University of Mary Washington on Sunday, May 8 during a 10-day journey coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Freedom Rides that defied segregated bus transportation throughout the Deep South. The selection of Reed and other students was announced April 7 by PBS’s “American Experience” series.
“I am extremely excited. The Student Freedom Ride means a great deal to me because I am committed to diversity and social justice,” Reed said. “Civil rights pioneers, specifically James Farmer and the Freedom Riders, had to overcome many challenges while advocating for equal rights. They played an enormous role in dignifying the African American race, and the 2011 Student Freedom Ride is one way to acknowledge them.”
The announcement of Reed’s selection for the 2011 ride comes amid the university’s three-month commemoration of the 1961 Freedom Rides and the late civil rights pioneer James L. Farmer, Jr., who organized the protests and later taught the history of the civil rights movement at Mary Washington.
Students were chosen from nearly 1,000 applicants for the 2011 ride to represent a diverse cross-section of America, much like the original Freedom Riders, who were black and white, men and women—mostly students—who risked their lives to challenge segregation.
The 2011 student riders were selected based on essays about why they wanted to participate, their thoughts on social media and technology’s role in civic engagement today and their extracurricular activities.
Reed, a business administration major from Jersey City, N.J., is president of the university’s Black Student Association, vice president of Brothers of a New Direction and a longtime student aide and volunteer at UMW’s James Farmer Multicultural Center. He is treasurer of the Finance Committee, serves on several other committees and has participated in various campus groups, causes and community service activities.
Reed received the university’s 2011 Citizenship Award for Diversity, which the President’s Community Advisory Committee on Diversity presents to a senior possessing strong leadership characteristics and demonstrating a personal commitment to advocating for campus diversity and inclusion. As the award recipient, he serves as an ambassador for diversity, a peer mentor to underrepresented students and a voice for underrepresented populations.
“It is my hope that the 2011 Student Freedom Ride will help others gain a perspective on how issues of diversity, civil rights, and social justice can be strengthened and maintained in today’s society,” Reed said.
During a recent radio interview, Reed described the personal impact of a freshman course he took on Farmer’s life and legacy, saying the class deepened his passion for addressing diverse issues and exploring different cultural perspectives. He was featured in an independent documentary about Farmer’s life and career. Reed co-authored the article “Lay Bare the Legacy” with Timothy O’Donnell, associate professor of communication. O’Donnell said Reed “is the kind of student that makes me happy I chose this profession.”
He is the son of Charles Reed Sr. of Jersey City, N.J., and Kathy Scruggs-Reed of Fredericksburg, Va., and is a 2007 graduate of Dr. Ronald E. McNair Academic High School.
The student riders hail from 33 states and the District of Columbia, along with others who grew up in China, Tajikistan and Haiti. Students represent a broad range of schools—state universities, community and junior colleges, religiously affiliated institutions and Ivy League schools.
With the PBS “American Experience” bus serving as a moving classroom, the 2011 ride will provide an experiential learning opportunity for the students as they hear the memories of original Freedom Riders and meet with today’s leaders in civic engagement.
According to the PBS “American Experience” announcement, the ride also will serve as a means of launching a national conversation about the role of civic engagement in a thriving democracy, explore what issues inspire students to “get on the bus” today, and look at what forms civic engagement is taking on campuses and in communities across the country.
From May to December of 1961, 436 Freedom Riders took part in more than 60 bus rides to test segregated interstate buses and bus terminals, meeting mob violence with nonviolent tactics, eventually spurring the Kennedy administration to action. Director Stanley Nelson captured the ordeal in the acclaimed film “Freedom Riders” scheduled for broadcast May 16 on the PBS “American Experience” series.
In a recent interview on WVFA, Reed said he greatly admires the courage of the Freedom Riders who risked their lives, saying he would have “gotten on the bus” nervously: “There’s no doubt in my mind that the opportunity is there to stand up for social justice, so why not be a part of that experience and if it’s something that you truly, deeply do care about and believe in then you should definitely be able to get on the bus.”
Visit www.pbs.org/freedomriders to find an online resource containing extensive information about the 1961 Freedom Rides. The website offers students, teachers and the general public an interactive site to explore this event and the role of civic engagement in the shaping of society.
In addition to streaming video of the full “Freedom Riders” film, the site will offer a fully animated map of the Rides, an interactive roster of the 436 original Riders, nearly two hours of video that illustrates the people, issues and timeline of the Freedom Rides, information on the 2011 Student Freedom Ride and daily dispatches from the May ride.