The old bus terminal – with its segregated restrooms and waiting areas – is no longer there.
In its place, a permanent historical marker to commemorate the first stop on the 1961 Freedom Rides was unveiled yesterday afternoon, the result of efforts by University of Mary Washington staff, faculty and students, in partnership with the City of Fredericksburg. Sixty years after the history-making journey – in the presence of an original Freedom Rider and a vintage 1960s bus transported from a Roanoke museum – a diverse crowd mingled at the site and intertwined their voices as they sang “stayed on freedom,” many with tears in their eyes.
The project was spearheaded by Christopher Williams, a friend and mentee of Dr. James L. Farmer Jr., who organized the Freedom Rides to desegregate interstate travel. Farmer later taught at Mary Washington, where Williams is now the assistant director of UMW’s James Farmer Multicultural Center, dedicated to honoring the late civil rights icon’s legacy.
The nearly two-year process culminated on May 4 of this year when the state Department of Historic Resources approved the marker, and a smaller gathering honored the Freedom Rides’ 60th anniversary with the posting of a temporary marker.
To a crowd of more than 100 yesterday, Freedom Rider Dion Diamond, 80, said, “I wasn’t on that bus that came through Fredericksburg.” A sophomore at Howard University when the sit-ins and Freedom Rides began, he said he just couldn’t stay away from the movement.
“I thought I was leaving for a long weekend,” said Diamond, who ended up spending 30 days in a Mississippi jail cell with Dr. Farmer. “That long weekend [turned into two and a half years and] changed my life.” He never made it back to Howard but later graduated from the University of Wisconsin and Harvard.
Diamond, who now lives in Washington, D.C., said he views the Black Lives Matter movement and recent protests as “evolutionary activity.” The cause behind the Freedom Rides lives on, he added, “just with different approaches.”
The 13 initial riders, including Dr. Farmer and the late Rep. John Lewis, bravely integrated facilities at each stop, meeting more resistance – even violence and arrests – the deeper into the South they traveled. Their mug shots were posted on a banner, and as UMW student Sydney Baylor – who helped bring the project to fruition – read each name aloud, a bell tolled.
Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw described the unveiling of the marker – across from the Fredericksburg Post Office near the corner of Princess Anne and Wolfe streets – “a transformational event.”
To learn more about the Freedom Rides’ first stop marker project, read “Marker Furthers UMW Mission on Freedom Rides’ 60th Anniversary.”