In this silent WSB newsfilm clip from May 1961, white lunch counter operators close to avoid integration and Freedom Riders sit in the white waiting room and later are arrested at the Trailways bus terminal in Jackson, Mississippi.
The clip begins with white waitresses in uniform standing behind a lunch counter while a man in a suit stands at the edge of the counter. A white male employee ropes off the lunch counter; handwritten signs attached to the rope read "closed." Next, four African American men sit in a waiting room. One of the men pulls out a book while he waits. A white young man sits down at one end of the bench. Two other young men, one African American and one white, sit next to each other and appear to speak to one another. In the waiting room, a soldier with a gun slung across his back is seen from behind. Over his shoulder, a cameraman takes pictures of the interracial group in the waiting room. Later, several soldiers with "MP" armbands board a bus. Two African American men get off another bus and walk to a waiting group; a cameraman takes a picture and walks away. A sign on the door of the Trailways station indicates the waiting room is for white passengers traveling within Mississippi. Back inside the waiting room, a white police officer speaks to two African American men who sit on benches. Officers help both men stand up as men with cameras take pictures. Both men are frisked by policemen before they are directed to go outside. Outside, an African American woman carrying a suitcase is followed by a policeman as she walks towards and then gets in a paddy wagon. Finally a white man follows her and also gets in the police vehicle.
In the summer of 1961, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organized an interracial "Freedom Ride" through the South to test compliance with the United
States Supreme Court ruling banning segregation in interstate transportation. The ride, patterned after CORE's 1947 "Journey of Reconciliation," began in Washington D.C. on May 4, 1961 after three days of nonviolence training. Riders traveled in two groups, one by Greyhound and one by Trailways. The group met minor resistance in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. However, on May 14, both groups of travelers were attacked by white mobs in Alabama. In Anniston, the Trailways bus was attacked in the bus station and then burned just outside of town; riders who were trapped on the bus when the fire began suffered from smoke inhalation. In Birmingham, the Greyhound riders were attacked by a mob that viciously beat them and several bystanders. In both cases, local law enforcement officials appear to have been aware of the mob's plans yet arrived after the attack had begun. On May 15, officials from the United States Department of Justice, including Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, began negotiating with Alabama officials in an attempt to arrange safe passage for the riders from Birmingham to Montgomery. When Kennedy was unable to get Alabama governor John Patterson to agree to protect the riders, he arranged for the Freedom Riders to fly to New Orleans. Students from the Nashville movement, feeling it important to continue the Freedom Ride, gathered in Birmingham and on May 20 traveled to Montgomery. In Montgomery, another white mob attacked the riders and several bystanders, including John Seigenthaler, Kennedy's personal assistant in Alabama. President John F. Kennedy authorized federal marshals to be sent to Alabama to restore order following continued racial rioting in the city. After further negotiations between the Justice Department and officials from Alabama and Mississippi, the Freedom Riders traveled from Montgomery to Jackson, Mississippi on May 24. Unbeknownst to the riders, the Justice Department had agreed to allow Mississippi officials to arrest the riders upon their arrival in Jackson. Throughout the summer, subsequent groups of riders traveled to Jackson and were also arrested. In September 1961, at the urging of the Justice Department, the Interstate Commerce Commission banned segregation in facilities serving interstate passengers.
Title supplied by cataloger.
The Civil Rights Digital Library received support from a National Leadership Grant for Libraries awarded to the University of Georgia by the Institute of Museum and Library Services for digital conversion and description of the WSB-TV Newsfilm Collection.
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Cite as: WSB-TV newsfilm clip of lunch counter employees shutting down operations to avoid integration, and Freedom Riders sitting in the Trailways bus terminal and then being arrested in Jackson, Mississippi, 1961 May, WSB-TV newsfilm collection, reel 0746, 55:35/56:49, Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection, The University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, Ga, as presented in the Digital Library of Georgia.