1961 Freedom Riders' 40th Reunion

Jackson, Mississippi, Veterans' Day Weekend, November 8-11, 2001

Reunion Crisis Update

The following letter was sent on 18th September 2001 to all known Freedom Riders by Reunion Chair Carol Ruth Silver, reaffirming the Reunion will take place and sharing the most recent developments.

SUBJECT: Freedom Riders 40th Reunion

Dear Freedom Riders and Friends:

In light of the tragic events of last week in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, the Freedom Riders Foundation is sending this message out to let Freedom Riders, their families and friends, know that we will go on with the Reunion as planned:

Freedom Riders 40th Anniversary Reunion
Tougaloo College
Jackson, Mississippi
Veterans Day Weekend
Thursday evening through Sunday noon
8 - 12 November, 2001

Please look at our new and improved web site at www.freedomridersfoundation.org. There you can find the schedule of events and a Registration form, which hopefully you will want to fill out to tell us that you are coming to Jackson. There are also lists of the names of Freedom Riders who have been found, and those for whom we are still searching, a list of Freedom Riders expected to attend the Reunion, and many pictures pertaining to the Freedom Rides that can be found on two new links entitled Jackson Sights and Photos, Articles and Artifacts.

Those of you who haven’t yet reviewed the oral history questionnaire might want to do so and either email in your responses for posting on the site or to be better prepared to tell your story at the Reunion.

The Office of the Governor of Mississippi called this morning to say that he will issue a Proclamation by the State of Mississippi honoring the Freedom Riders on the occasion of this Reunion. (Believe it!) The Mayor of Jackson is not only issuing a Proclamation but his office has confirmed his presence at the Sunday Morning interfaith service as well as the plaque dedication ceremonies at Tougaloo College.

To date, we have 46 Freedom Riders Confirmed. These include so far one Congressman, a number of former local elected officials, some Rabbis and Ministers, lots of lawyers and academicians. There are also another 32 Freedom Riders whose attendance at the Reunion is Tentative or Possible. These are not bad numbers at this still early date.

Click here for a list of those attending. If you do not see your name posted on the page but plan to attend please let us know. Conversely, if your name is posted and you do not plan to attend due to recent events, please let us know that, too. We hope as many of the Freedom Riders, their Family and Friends will be able to attend this historic Reunion in Jackson.

There is a local host committee in Jackson, headed by Beverly Hogan of Tougaloo College and Dr. Les McLemore of the Jackson City Council, which has committed to providing us with help in hosting various events at the reunion. We are presently seeking someone local in Jackson to become the "promoter" of the Saturday evening "Hootenanny", but we also hope that each of you will bring your guitar or harmonica.

We need Freedom Riders and others to volunteer to assist in the many tasks of such a gathering.

And we need help with fundraising.

If you are interested in assisting with any of these tasks, please let us know.

For those of you who are interested in the evolution of the Freedom Riders Foundation, here is a brief history.

The Reunion Committee started out as three people who had been Freedom Riders, myself, Georgia Bodofsky-Siegal of LA and Norma Lisbon of Philadelphia. We began meeting by telephone conference call every other day and became more and more excited about a Reunion.

Our first task was to find out if anyone else was planning a Reunion, since of course we did not want to reinvent the wheel, but all of our inquiries turned up no such activity. I called Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi. I called some Jackson hotels, the police department, the Mayor's office, the Jackson Convention bureau, and even a couple of churches, but no one had heard of any gathering of Freedom Riders in Jackson, Mississippi, in this, their 40th Anniversary year.

So we started planning the Reunion. I called Tougaloo again and they were pleased with the idea that they would be the host site. I called CORE in New York City to ask for a list of the Freedom Riders (they did not have it). I reserved a convention hotel and a block of rooms with discounts. I asked the Mayor's office to reserve the date on his schedule for a plaque dedication. We asked the police to assist us in finding the names of all of the Freedom Riders who were arrested in Jackson in 1961, and they were most helpful. We involved other Freedom Riders whom we knew or met, including Ed Blankenheim, one of the original group whose Freedom Ride ended with their bus being burned out in Annison, Alabama.

Ed told us of the reenactment planned by Congressman John Lewis for May, 2001 of that Freedom Ride, so we talked to Congressman Lewis himself and to his staff. In all these contacts, we found no one else doing what we were doing, but great enthusiasm and encouragement for it. (There was a small Reunion planned for Sacramento, CA, created by and for the last group of Freedom Riders to leave LA, who were arrested in Houston, and we later supported and participated in that Reunion as it occurred).

So we proceeded. But organizing the Reunion was snowballing into a full time job. I put out a call for help, in the form of a press release about the Reunion and a posting on the internet. Both of these generated calls from Freedom Riders whom I did not previously know, and help from lots of people, including a web designer who got up our first web site (now much changed) and Stanford University's Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project, and David Lisker, who has become our full time staff Coordinator. David is a young man who did his MA thesis on the history of the Civil Rights Movement and is more knowledgeable than I am, even though I lived through it, about the Civil Rights era, and is a teacher in the English as a Second Language program at San Francisco City College.

David paid his own way to go to Jackson in May (hopefully to be reimbursed later), and met with many people at Tougaloo, the Mayor and Members of the City Council of Jackson, the Jackson Civil Rights Museum, the Tourism Board, some Freedom Riders living in Mississippi, the architect who presently has the old Greyhound Bus Depot, the Associated Press, the archivist at Southern Mississippi University, the Police, and many others. The result was a firming up of the scheduled events and commitments, as detailed on our web site.

Meantime, I continued to recruit various others, including a CPA, Eva Konigsberg, the Chief Financial Officer of a local business, who has volunteered to be our accountant and CFO. Ralph Fertig, another lawyer and a Freedom Rider from LA, volunteered to bring on some professional help with the filming of the Oral History Project, and to work on the copyright issues. Craig Newmark of craigslist became our Webmeister.

The SFFSC (San Francisco Family Stress Center) is a local community charity with 501(c)(3) tax status. The Freedom Riders 40th Reunion is its biggest project at this time (its other projects are an environmental one, protection of mature trees in Humboldt County, and collection of medical equipment for a hospital in a war area).

The Board consists of two African-American women: Sodonia Wilson (former member of the SF School Board and one of the original founders of SFFSC) and Linda Richardson (candidate for election on the Mayor Willie L. Brown slate last year to the SF Board of Supervisors, an efficiency expert formerly with the Bank of American and now a consultant), plus David Lisker who was just added, myself and one other.

I am the Chair of the Board, as well as the Chair of the Reunion. (My background, in addition to being a Freedom Rider, is that I am a lawyer, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, now in real estate and business law; I started my legal career as an intern in the Law Offices of McKissick & Bert, Durham, N.C., just before Floyd B. McKissick became the head of CORE. I then became an attorney for Legal Services for the Poor in Delano, CA, and elsewhere, before being elected to serve three terms as a Member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.)

The name of the SFFSC was confusing for use in this Freedom Riders 40th Reunion project, so I filed a DBA form for 1961 Freedom Riders 40th Reunion. When we did our web site, this name did not work so we adopted "Freedom Riders Foundation" as another DBA of the SFFSC.

Please download the registration form and send it to the Freedom Riders Foundation.

Call us with any special questions or concerns you may have.

For those who may have concerns about flying at this time, please note that Greyhound Bus and Amtrak both go to Jackson.

The number for Greyhound Reservations is: 1-800-231-2222

The number for Amtrak Reservations (however expensive) is: 1-800-872-7245

Thanks very much and I look forward to seeing you in Jackson.

Chair, Freedom Riders 40th Reunion