AUBURN, Ala. – Two activists who played a role in the civil rights during the 1960s are sharing their stories. Freedom Riders Bill Harbour and Charles Person worked toward the enforcement of desegregation on buses.
Harbour and Person spoke at Auburn University Wednesday night during the last full week of Black History Month. Both met violence during their time on the Freedom Ride, but escaped with their lives.
They say they endured the difficult journey because they saw a need for change. Harbour says they are commonly asked why they joined the Freedom Riders considering all the risks.
“We saw something that we knew should be changed and that’s why we really did it,” he said.
Person was denied entry into college.
“My SAT score was good enough to get me accepted at MIT yet I couldn’t go to Georgia Tech, which was right there in the city. For an 18-year-old it didn’t make an awful lot of sense, but it also gives a great motivator,” he explained.
When Harbour’s bus arrived in Montgomery, he was met with a mob of 200 plus holding pipes and baseball bats. Person was one of the most severely beaten Freedom Riders during the riot at the Birmingham Trailways Bus.
“I went to a school system that was preparing me for failure. It was a lot of things going wrong and I’m saying you know I had nothing to lose and the fact was it had to get better,” Person said.
Harbour says he didn’t realize what was going to happen when he went on the Freedom Ride.
“We very seldom talk about what happened and the problems our family had during that time. Not only that we had major problems on the Freedom Ride, but our families had problems,” he explained.
He says his mother would talk about how other people in their own race had problems with what he was doing.
“A lot of times they’d ask where that Harbour boy? And times well, you know, he should come home and leave them white folks alone. They felt that way. Life was that way back in 1960,” Harbour said.
Harbour and Person say all of the bus stations were integrated within in a six month period of time.
“We took the road less traveled and it made a world of difference in the Freedom Ride,” Harbour said.
Harbour lives in Atlanta acting as an unofficial archivist of the Freedom Rider Movement. Person works at a technology supervisor in Atlanta Public Schools.
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