November 26, 2020

UMW Community Works with City on Freedom Rides Historical Marker

Last fall, UMW students and city residents retraced the route of the Freedom Rides, the historic protest to desegregate interstate travel, organized by James Farmer. Members of the UMW community are working with the City to establish a historic marker on the site of the old bus station in Fredericksburg, the Freedom Riders' first stop on their 1961 trip. Photo by Lynda Allen.

Last fall, UMW students and city residents retraced the route of the Freedom Rides, the historic protest to desegregate interstate travel, organized by James Farmer. Members of the UMW community are working with the City to establish a historic marker on the site of the old bus station in Fredericksburg, the Freedom Riders’ first stop on their 1961 trip. Photo by Lynda Allen.

James Farmer Multicultural Center Assistant Director Chris Williams, Assistant Professor of History Erin Devlin and Assistant Professor of Historic Preservation Christine Henry were interviewed in The Free Lance-Star about their efforts to work with the City of Fredericksburg to establish a Virginia state historical marker at the site of the old bus station where the Freedom Riders stopped first in their quest to desegregate interstate transportation in 1961. The station formerly stood on the corner of Princess Anne and Wolfe streets, near where the fire station is now.

Some of the riders were arrested in North Carolina, South Carolina and Mississippi. In Anniston, Ala., a mob of Ku Klux Klan members slashed the bus’s tires as it attempted to leave the terminal, and later threw a firebomb at it.

UMW students and staff and community members visited the field where the bombing occurred last fall, as part of a trip recreating the journey of the Freedom Riders.

“To our surprise, there was no marker out there. No historical marker saying that right here, the original 13 Freedom Riders were fire-bombed,” said Chris Williams, assistant director of UMW’s James Farmer Multicultural Center, which organized the trip. “I was enraged and so were the students.”

Back home in Fredericksburg, Williams was still thinking about ways the story of the Freedom Riders and James Farmer could be told better—and that led to the idea of placing a highway marker at the site of the old bus station.

Williams, Devlin and Henry, in partnership with the City of Fredericksburg, have started the process of applying for the marker from the state Department of Historical Resources. Read more.