Former Freedom Rider helps local students fund historic trip

Former Freedom Rider helps local students fund historic trip

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It was a painful moment in American history, marked with undaunted courage in the face of real fear.

Hundreds of Freedom Riders - black and white, male and female - risked their lives to travel together on interstate buses through the segregated South.

In 1961, these activists sought to challenge the non-enforcement of two U.S. Supreme Court rulings which stated segregated public buses were unconstitutional.

Many were beaten. Many more were sent to jail in Jackson, Mississippi.

One bus was firebombed.

Diane Nash was a leader in the movement. As a student at Fisk University in Nashville, she was elected coordinator of the Nashville Student Movement Ride, and recruited new riders.

This was no easy feat. The first wave of Riders met with a violent and premature ending. Two buses made their way into the deep South. One was stopped with a firebomb in Anniston, Alabama.

The second made it to Birmingham, where it was greeted by hundreds of rioters who savagely beat the early civil rights activists. Infamous Birmingham Police Chief Eugene "Bull" Connor let the rioters rain down unimpeded terror for 20 minutes before his officers intervened.

 That didn't stop Nash and her new recruits.

"I was afraid the whole time, and I think you had to be. It was dangerous," she told Fox 2 Sunday. "So if you had a good sense you would be afraid."

She said segregation was so degrading and humiliating that the alternative to doing what they did was to tolerate it.

"I could never imagine just tolerating that type of dehumanization," she said.

Nash shared her incredible story, and some of the lessons of non-violence, during an event Sunday night at Marygrove College in Detroit.

That gathering was also a fundraiser, helping pay for a bus trip through the South for 35 Michigan students.

They'll visit historic sites and retrace the Freedom Riders perilous journey.

The program Sunday, hosted by the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights, included musical performances, dinner and awards for five Metro Detroiters for their human rights activism.

Fox 2's Amy Lange served as the evening's emcee.

Click on the video player to hear from some of the young people who will take the Freedom Tour this June. They shared their thoughts on what it was like to meet Diane Nash, and why it's so important to preserve the legacy of the Freedom Riders.

Those students are still looking for financial help. You can contribute by calling 313-579-9071, or visit

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