May 21, 2022

Tears, Applause and Song Greet Freedom Rides Marker

The old bus terminal – with its segregated restrooms and waiting areas – is no longer there.

Posing with the historical marker, from left to right, James Farmer Multicultural Center Associate Director JoAnna Raucci and Director Marion Sanford, Freedom Rider Dion Diamond and Assistant Director Christopher Williams. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

Posing with the historical marker, from left to right, James Farmer Multicultural Center Associate Director JoAnna Raucci and Director Marion Sanford, Freedom Rider Dion Diamond and Assistant Director Christopher Williams. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

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. Read more.

About Anna Billingsley

Anna B. Billingsley, associate vice president for university relations, has worked at UMW since 2004.