COLUMBUS, Ga. — Thousands of people use Columbus METRA every year to get around town. And while getting from point “A” to point “B” hasn’t changed much for Columbus riders, the civil rights movement kicked change into high gear back in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Columbus METRA Director Rosa Evans says she’s thankful for those who paved an easier path in public transit.
“Anybody has the right to ride,” Evans said. “We’re driving the buses. We’re in key positions.”
But it hasn’t always been that way. In the Jim Crow South, black boarded buses for work and school. But Columbus State University Associate Professor of History Gary Sprayberry says an everyday routine elicited guilt and shame on a routine basis.
“It was a daily reminder of their second class citizenship,” Sprayberry said. “It was a daily humiliation for them to sit in the so-called colored section.”
Sprayberry says that unlike restaurants or schools, buses were the place where blacks and whites would frequently come into close contact. As early as 1951, combustion came to Columbus buses. Sprayberry says two women refused to give up their seats on a bus, when the bus driver grew frustrated and eventually irate. But the the two women had different plans.
“He stopped the bus and was going to physically remove them, and they beat him up,” Sprayberry explained. “They were ultimately arrested, but those kinds of incidents happened more than you would think. Buses were these kinds of battlegrounds, daily battlegrounds.
Sprayberry adds that the Fountain City saw integration at a much quicker pace that other cities like Selma, Montgomery, and Birmingham. He says more violence in the Alabama cities slowed integration processes. He also mentioned freedom rides across the South in the early 1960’s encouraged young students to make a difference.
“It inspired an action here in Columbus in the summer, July specifically, of 1961,” Sprayberry said.
The young freedom riders’ actions paid off through integrated buses. In Columbus, several students were arrested, leading to the same result. Soon, lunch counters and the regional airport followed suit and integrated.
“It was a social revolution for the South,” Sprayberry said of the civil rights movement. “It destroyed one world and allowed another one to emerge.”
Rosa Evans says the sacrifices made over generations ultimately add up to freedoms enjoyed in present day Columbus.
“You go on, you pay your fare, and you go where you need to go,” Evans said.
Columbus city councilor Jerry “Pops” Barnes has asked Columbus State professors to work on creating an oral history of the region during the civil rights era. The recordings would cover 16 Georgia and Alabama counties. You can see a compilation of articles detailing some local civil rights history, courtesy of our media partners the Ledger-Enquirer here: Civil Rights in Columbus.