July 2nd was the 50thAnniversary of the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The American School Bus Council was thrilled to be asked by the U.S. Department of Education to play an important role in their commemoration of the event.
ASBC liaised with its Member Organizations to procure three buses for the Department of Education to use on their “Civil Rights Ride” that featured six former Freedom Riders and 50 college students who won a competitive essay contest to participate in commemorative events, including a symbolic ride from Washington to Richmond, VA and back.
At ASBC, we frequently talk about how school buses provide equal access to education for all students and that for millions of Americans the school day begins when a child walks out his or her door and onto a school bus. The Department of Education shares in those views and specifically requested that ASBC identify a bus for use on this trip that was equipped to transport special needs students. The Department explained that they view special needs students as a critical group in today’s civil rights struggles. Thus, the first of the three buses we used on this important trip was equipped with a state-of-the-art lift and space for five wheelchairs.
The day began with an inspiring program inside the Department of Education headquarters in Washington, DC. Six former Freedom Riders were honored, songs were sung, art was displayed, and a local high school student read a statement from President Obama, who was unable to attend.
The six former freedom riders who attended were Dion Diamond, Reverend Reginald Green, John Moody, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, Charles Person and Hank Thomas. In the early 1960s, these young men and women (black and white alike) rode motor coaches into the Deep South to non-violently protest segregationist policies and institutions.
On this trip, however, they rode comfortably on new school buses and fielded questions from motivated college students upon whom the importance of being able to talk to Freedom Riders was not lost.
When the buses arrived at the State House in Richmond, the students and Freedom Riders were greeted by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, Congressman Bobby Scott, and civil rights leader / former Mayor of Richmond / newly-retired Virginia State Senator Henry Marsh. A keynote speech about the civil rights challenges faced within the American education system today was made by the U.S. Department of Education’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Catherine Lhamon.
After the ceremony at the State House, the buses returned to their starting point at the Department of Education. It was a memorable experience for all involved, and ASBC is grateful for having been able to help and participate.