A Drake University sophomore is the only Iowan chosen to take part in a cross-country bus trip next month that mirrors a 1961 trek which historians say was a turning point in the Civil Rights movement. Ryan Price, a Quad Cities native, is among 40 college students who will be taking part in what’s being called the 2011 Student Freedom Ride.
Price says, “While we’re sitting on the bus, it’s meant to be a classroom experience to provide us with a learning opportunity where we get to talk with these courageous people who went on the original Freedom Rides and they can tell us just how different their ride was from the one we’re going on.”
The trip will begin May 6th in Washington D.C. and will roll through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi, ending ten days later in New Orleans. Stops will include historic sites on the original ride five decades ago, like the First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, where federal marshals had to rescue the original riders from a mob.
Price, who’s majoring in journalism and politics at Drake, says civic engagement is the greatest civil service to which we can all commit. “I am definitely passionate about any issue in the United States or around the world that marginalizes people,” Price says. “We like to believe we have all those issues behind us. We always have, in our past, thought people were equal and then, younger generations come along and say, ‘Wait, we still have some work to do.’”
The original Freedom Riders aimed to defy southern states’ laws that banned blacks from riding in public interstate buses. In many stopovers, they were set upon by mobs and their buses were firebombed. Protests broke out in train stations and airports across the South. In the fall of 1961, federal rules were enacted barring segregated interstate transportation — an important landmark.
Price says several original Freedom Riders will be riding along on this new ten-day adventure across the Deep South, joining the 40 college students. “It’s going to be really interesting to get on this bus with diverse people and diverse passions,” Price says. “That’s going to create a really exciting conversation.”
Price and the 39 other students were chosen from among nearly 1,000 applicants from 33 states. Students were picked based on essays, their commitment to civic engagement and their extracurricular activities. The “Freedom Riders” documentary premieres on “American Experience” on PBS at 8 P.M. on Monday, May 16.