Buses are a comin' Memoir of a freedom rider

Charles Person

Book - 2021

"A firsthand exploration of the cost of boarding the bus of change to move America forward-written by one of the Civil Rights Movement's pioneers. At 18, Charles Person was the youngest of the original Freedom Riders, key figures in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement who left Washington, D.C. by bus in 1961, headed for New Orleans. This purposeful mix of black and white, male and female activists-including future Congressman John Lewis, Congress of Racial Equality Director James Farmer, Reverend Benjamin Elton Cox, journalist and pacifist James Peck, and CORE field secretary Genevieve Hughes-set out to discover whether America would abide by a Supreme Court decision that ruled segregation unconstitutional in bus depots, waiting areas,... restaurants, and restrooms nationwide. The Freedom Riders found their answer. No. Southern states would continue to disregard federal law and use violence to enforce racial segregation. One bus was burned to a shell; the second, which Charles rode, was set upon by a mob that beat the Riders nearly to death. Buses Are a Comin' provides a front-row view of the struggle to belong in America, as Charles leads his colleagues off the bus, into the station, into the mob, and into history to help defeat segregation's violent grip on African American lives. It is also a challenge from a teenager of a previous era to the young people of today: become agents of transformation. Stand firm. Create a more just and moral country where students have a voice, youth can make a difference, and everyone belongs"--

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Personal narratives
New York, NY : St. Martin's Press 2021.
Main Author
Charles Person (author)
Other Authors
Richard Rooker (author)
First edition
Physical Description
x, 294 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Prologue: A Mother's Arms
  • 1. Life in the Bottom
  • 2. Awakenings
  • 3. Do Something
  • 4. The Leader of the Pack
  • 5. Man of Morehouse
  • 6. On My Way
  • 7. Those Who Came Before
  • 8. Training in Washington, D.C.
  • 9. First Days
  • 10. Shoe-In
  • 11. Trouble Comes a Calling
  • 12. Home in Atlanta
  • 13. Mother's Day
  • 14. Mother's Day, Part II
  • 15. The Day After
  • 16. Resolution
  • 17. Aftermath
  • Epilogue: The Cost of the Ticket
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Index
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Civil rights activist Person debuts with a striking personal history of the 1961 Freedom Rides in protest of the nonenforcement of Supreme Court rulings banning racial segregation on interstate transportation. The youngest participant at just 18 years old, Person describes vicious attacks by white supremacist mobs against the first two Freedom Rides. In Anniston, Ala., attackers held the doors of a Greyhound bus shut as they tried to burn its passengers alive; in Birmingham, Ala., public safety commissioner Bull Connor gave the Ku Klux Klan "fifteen uninterrupted minutes... to do whatever they wanted to the unwanted black bus riders and their white compatriots." Person colorfully evokes his impoverished childhood in Atlanta's Buttermilk Bottom neighborhood, his introduction to the civil rights movement at Morehouse College, and his shading of the truth ("It's not going to be dangerous") in order to get his father to sign a permission slip so he could participate in the inaugural Freedom Ride from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans. He also offers intimate sketches of his fellow Riders, including future congressman John Lewis. Shot through with vivid details of beatdowns, arrests, and awe-inspiring bravery, this inspirational account captures the magnitude of what the early civil rights movement was up against. (Apr.)

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Review by Library Journal Review

In May 1961, 18-year-old Person joined the first Freedom Riders. He boarded a Trailways bus in Washington, DC, with a handful of people headed to New Orleans for a Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)-sponsored test of the 1960 Supreme Court decision Boynton v. Virginia, which reaffirmed that racial segregation on public transportation is illegal. His vivid memoir is a coming-of-age narrative of eye-opening experiences with Jim Crow, and his growing determination to do something about segregation. It carries readers from his 1942 birth in Atlanta's Buttermilk Bottom through his enrollment at Morehouse College, engaging in the Atlanta Student Movement's desegregation sit-ins, and then volunteering for the CORE "Ride." In almost diaristic style, he details the Riders' daily routine, personal misgivings, and the camaraderie and community that sustained them against such viciousness as the Mother's Day bus firebombing in Anniston, AL, as well as the mob onslaught that ended the first Ride. VERDICT Person's engagingly rendered, intimate testimony offers a look at the power of character and conviction among grassroots activists who paid the painful price of direct action to penetrate America's consciousness. His words call for continuing efforts to "do something."--Thomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

A stirring memoir that offers a view of the legacy of the 1961 Freedom Rides on both micro and macro scales. This dynamic narrative effectively demonstrates the circumstances that led to the Freedom Rides and serves as a reflection of what it means to belong in America, then and now. With the assistance of Rooker, Person (b. 1942) chronicles his journey in a way that testifies to the impressive character traits shared by the Freedom Riders, especially strength, determination, and unwavering dedication to equality. After enrolling at Morehouse College in 1960, Person became the youngest of the original 13 and the last to join the group. His perspective is that of an outsider becoming an insider, and he generously shares significant moments such as grappling with Klansmen in Atlanta and being attacked in Birmingham for sitting at a Whites-only counter. By recounting his inspiring youthful experiences, the author also creates a forceful call to action for readers to board their own literal or metaphorical buses: "The ride you accept, no matter the risk--in fact, because of the risk--may have the force to lift and uplift millions….Make the country better for those unborn who will never know the seat you took." Person artfully weaves together the many characters and events of this tumultuous time, putting the pieces together for readers to fully understand the gravity of this "groundswell of change." The depth with which the author examines not just his own story, but that of his fellow riders, gives a multifaceted perspective that clearly demonstrates why each was committed to the cause. The throughline for himself is clear, as he articulates early in the book his Papa's advice to "do something." By divulging the inner stories of his fellow riders, Person offers a unique and powerful aggregate view of events. A vital story, this memoir is also an instructive gift to future generations fighting for change. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.