Celebration planned for '61 Freedom Riders

ALBANY, Ga. -- A local celebration for a group of civil rights activists is planned for Wednesday and Thursday, local officials at the Albany Civil Rights Institute say.

The event will honor 1961 Freedom Riders -- a group of civil rights activists that rode interstate buses into the segregated South to challenge local laws and customs that enforced segregation.

Albany Civil Rights Institute Executive Director Lee Formwalt said the two-day event, which is being funded through a grant from the Georgia Humanities Council, will begin with a screening of the PBS film "Freedom Riders."

"We are going to be seeing the film six months before it will be shown on the (PBS) station," Formwalt said.

The film tells the story of Freedom Rider activists, a group of more than 400 participants who challenged Jim Crow segregation in interstate travel throughout the South. During the long bus rides, both black and white passengers were subjected to beatings, bus bombings and other brutalities for their actions.

"The purpose of the Freedom Rides was to test to see if segregation still prevailed in the South when it was against federal law at that time to segregate interstate transportation," said Formwalt.

The film will be shown at Albany State University's ACAD auditorium on Wednesday at 7 p.m. before its nationwide broadcast on PBS in May of 2011.

Organizers say the ASU sneak preview of "Freedom Riders" will be free and open to the public.

On Thursday, the ACRI will host a speaking event at 7:30 p.m. for two of Albany's Freedom Riders -- A. Lenora Taitt-Magubane and Joan Browning -- in the Chatauqua Room at the Thronateeska Heritage Center located at 100 Roosevelt Ave.

"The Albany Freedom Riders will be discussing their experiences and their arrests in Albany," said Formwalt.

According to the ACRI executive director, Taitt-Magubane and Browning were among a group of Freedom Riders that had taken a Georgia Central Railroad train in December 1961 from Atlanta to Albany, where they were later arrested.

Formwalt said the Albany Freedom Ride, in which eight riders and one observer participated, arrived at the old Union Railroad Station on Sunday Dec. 11, 1961 at 3:30 p.m. After disembarking from the train, the riders then veered toward the "white" waiting room and were told by authorities to leave the station.

The riders complied with authorities and gathered outside, where a motorcade of black civil rights activists was waiting to welcome them.

Albany authorities arrested the group of riders and others and charged them with disorderly conduct, obstructing the flow of traffic and failure to obey an officer.

"Their arrests then stirred the community and propelled the Albany Movement," said Formwalt. "Later that week Dr. (Martin Luther) King came to Albany and breathed new life into the Albany Movement."