50th Commemoration of the Freedom Rides

James Farmre

“Our intention was to provoke the southern authorities into arresting us and thereby prod the Justice Department into enforcing the law of the land”   James Farmer


A message to the UMW Community from President Hurley:

In the spring of 1961, a small but incredibly courageous group of individuals set out by commercial bus on a perilous journey to strike down Jim Crow segregation in the Deep South. Led by Dr. James L. Farmer, Jr., national director of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), they became known as the “Freedom Riders.” Their stories of personal sacrifice launched a decade of social activism and citizen involvement in the struggle for civil rights that would ultimately change the course of American history.

Of course, the James Farmer who led the Freedom Rides also occupies a special place of honor here at the University of Mary Washington, where he served as Distinguished Professor of History and American Studies for many years. There is no doubt that the gift of his presence on our campus enlightened and enriched the lives of a generation of Mary Washington students, and continues to do so even today.

Fifty years after the buses left from Washington, DC for their historic journey, we have a unique opportunity to commemorate the golden anniversary of the Freedom Rides. As I said in my opening address to faculty and staff in August, one of my goals for the 2010-11 academic year is to honor James Farmer. Those efforts formally began a few weeks ago when we announced the James Farmer commemorative postage stamp campaign and will continue through spring 2011, when the university will turn its attention to a semester-long celebration of the “50th Anniversary Commemoration of James Farmer and the Freedom Rides.”

The university’s commemoration will kick off in January with Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Week and continue through commencement when we will be honored to have Congressman John Lewis, one of the original Freedom Riders and colleague of Dr. Farmer, join us as our featured speaker.

Along the way, there will be a number of events and activities, including a special two-day celebration March 30-31. On Wednesday, March 30th, UMW will host a premier of the critically acclaimed film, “Freedom Riders.” That gala event will be followed March 31st by a special “Great Lives” program with Raymond Arsenault, author of the book upon which the movie was based.

Throughout the semester we will host a number of special guests, including former Freedom Riders and Civil Rights movement leaders, as well as distinguished scholars whose work on race, civil rights, and student activism promise to sustain the vibrancy of a conversation throughout the semester.

For further information on the university’s celebration or to participate in the university’s commemorative stamp campaign, go to the James Farmer website. Throughout the spring semester, this site will host the most up-to-date information about related events.

I invite the entire University of Mary Washington community to come together to pay tribute to the legacy of the Freedom Riders, to recognize the role of our beloved professor as one of our greatest Civil Rights champions, and to reflect on the lessons that they have for us today. If you have ideas for connecting the university’s celebration with classes, student groups, or activities, or just want to be more involved in the commemorative events, do not hesitate to contact my office. 540-654-1301.