Prior to the mid-1960s, racial segregation was commonly practiced in many states. Jim Crow laws that codified the separation of the races and cast African-Americans into second-class roles were enforced by local and state law authorities.
A ground swell of Americans, who recognized the civil rights abuses for the wrongs that they were, rose up and took non-violent action.
On May 4, 1961 thirteen people left Washington, D.C. by bus to challenge the laws that enforced segregation. Known as Freedom Riders, their ultimate goal was to reach New Orleans in time for a May 17 rally.
Along the way they were stopped, beaten and arrested. On Mother’s Day, May 14, one of their buses was firebombed. They did not make it to New Orleans in time.
That summer they were joined by protestors from other parts of the country. Eventually, more than 300 were arrested and jailed.
Ocean County College and Ocean County Library will present Freedom Rider Lewis Zuchman and author Eric Etheridge, who chronicled the Freedom Riders’ activities in his recently released book, “Breach of Peace.”
Both will speak at the college student center and the Toms River library branch Wednesday April 28. The college program will begin at noon. The library program will begin at 6:30 p.m. A book signing will immediately follow at the library. Both programs are free and open to the public. Registration is required for the library program.
Attendees will learn how those first, faltering steps of the Freedom Riders led to an awakening of the country’s conscience that later resulted in the enactment of laws that reaffirmed the rights of all citizens and enabled authorities to enforce those laws.
Now, nearly fifty years later, people can acknowledge the civil rights improvements that were made, and develop a strategy toward equality for all people.
Etheridge presents the events linearly as he unfolds the timeline of that summer. His introduction explains the forces that drove the Freedom Riders to confront the country’s unwillingness to address civil rights issues.
He interviewed many of the surviving Freedom Riders and presents their stories, alongside their mug shots and contemporary photographs, to illustrate the abuses they endured for equality.
For more information contact the college at (732) 255-0400, ext. 2026. To register for the library program call the operator at (732) 349-6200 or (609) 971-0514 or go to the library Web site www.theoceancountylibrary.org .
The program is sponsored by the Ocean County Library and the Ocean County College’s Office of Multicultural Services and Office of Student Life, in partnership with the Toms River and the Ocean County/Lakewood branches of NAACP, the Jewish Federation of Ocean County, New Jersey Natural Gas Company and the Jersey Shore chapter of the American Conference on Diversity.