In the historical Freedom Rides of 1961 that challenged the status quo of Jim Crow segregation laws in the South, John Charles Taylor Jr. was one of the few students from the Bay Area who participated.
Traveling from New Orleans to Jackson, Mississippi, the interracial group of students included Stokely Carmichael, Diane Nash, Carol Ruth Silver, John Lewis (later elected to Congress), James Farmer, and others. They were committed to demanding the federal government enforce the law outlawing segregation in interstate bus travel.
“We had to take everything out of our pockets except our driver’s license, birth certificate, and emergency information, in case we die,” Taylor said of the way Freedom Riders prepared to face angry mobs and resistance to their movement.
“We made ourselves commit that we really wanted to do this and why we were doing it. We wanted to integrate the entire Jackson transportation system.”
Representing the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the students worked together and did not back down when they were met by a mob of law enforcement and the Ku Klux Klan in Jackson, Mississippi.
“We told them we were not going back,” said Taylor, reflecting on that fateful day. “You can kill us if you want to, but we are going to walk through this station, and we’re going through the front of the train station.”
The Freedom Riders became “symbols of the community” as they endured beatings and were arrested and jailed in Jackson. Defended by attorneys Thurgood Marshall and Jack Young, the Freedom Riders were moved to Parchman Penitentiary where they remained for weeks under abusive conditions.
They were finally released with the help of the NAACP.
Looking at progress since the 1960s, Taylor says Barack Obama being elected as president was one of the most outstanding things that has come out of the Civil Rights Movement.
He also says there is still work to be done and that it starts with exercising the right to vote.