In May 1961, a group of students challenged segregation on buses and in terminals throughout the South. This May, in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of these Freedom Riders, PBS is sponsoring a 10-day bus ride for 40 college students that will retrace the Freedom Ride from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans.
University of Mary Washington Senior Charles Reed will be on the bus.
“My first reaction was utter excitement,” Reed said about learning of his acceptance. “I literally jumped out of my seat and began screaming, shouting and dancing. A great sense of pride flowed through my body. I’ll never forget that day for as long as I live. It is a great honor to be the only student from UMW and Virginia selected for the ride.”
“Charles is the only student on the bus representing a Virginia university.” Said George Farrar, the associate vice president for university relations. “He was selected in a nationwide competition to be one of 40 students who will join some of the original Freedom Riders on the bus to retrace the route of the Freedom Rides. It’s a great accomplishment for Charles and a wonderful opportunity for him to learn from those who made history. We are very proud that he will be representing all of the UMW community on this trip.”
Interested students were asked to submit an application to PBS with a description of why they wanted to participate, their opinion on media’s involvement with civic life and a listing of their extracurricular activities. PBS received approximately 1,000 applications.
“I was very confident about my application,” Reed said. “I dedicated a lot of time and effort to it and hoped I would be one of the 40 students chosen after submitting it.”
He credited his confidence to his involvement with various activities on campus in addition to his awareness of James Farmer.
“The fact that I am very involved on campus with clubs and organization that focus on diversity and inclusiveness most likely helped [my application],” he said. “Also, my knowledge of James Farmer and the Freedom Rides coupled with taking courses specifically geared to studying them was probably beneficial as well.”
This past semester, Reed took a class taught by Communications Professor Tim O’Donnell detailing the history behind the 1961 Freedom Rides.
“I think that taking Tim O’Donnell’s Freedom Riders course will definitely aid me when being on the bus,” Reed said. “I have gained a great deal of knowledge concerning different perspectives surrounding the Freedom Rides.”
Reed is also actively involved with the James Farmer Multicultural Center and is employed there.
“Being active with [the multicultural center] deepened my passion to better understand and appreciate the values of multiculturalism, diversity, and inclusiveness,” he said.
Junior Charles Girard, Reed’s peer and coworker at the Multicultural Center, said Reed is deserving of this opportunity.
“Charles is one of our most involved, appreciated and loved student leaders here,” Girard said. “His acceptance to the 2011 PBS Freedom Rides shows his commitment to diversity and human rights, and we all know that he will represent UMW and Virginia well.”
Reed said he is looking forward to taking his experiences at UMW and incorporating them with the bus tour.
“This is an experience of a lifetime,” he said. “I feel that the 2011 Student Freedom Ride is a great way for me to end my collegiate career and share my personal experiences with not only the other students on the bus, but America.”
Girard feels that this ride will act as a starting point to Reed’s future and his commitment to activism.
“Going on this ride will be a great end to his college career, but will just be a stop in his lifelong commitment to diversity and equal rights,” Girard said.
Reed said he is looking forward to many aspects of the trip, including meeting other participating students.
“However, I am most looking forward to being on the bus and meeting some of the original Freedom Riders,” he said. “That will be an unforgettable yet insightful experience.”
Reed does not think that enough people are familiar with James Farmer and his contribution to the Civil Rights Movement.
“Being that he was the strategist and organizer behind the Freedom Rides, along with his history at UMW, I think that is awesome that I will have the opportunity to serve as his ‘spokesperson’ while on the ride,” said Reed.
The bus will make its first stop May 8 at UMW.