U.S. Senators Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and John Kennedy (R-LA) introduced a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Freedom Riders, in recognition of their unique contribution to Civil Rights. The medal will be awarded to the two surviving Freedom Riders, collectively, and the medal will be displayed in an appropriate Smithsonian museum.
The original Freedom Riders, comprised of 13 riders—including the late Georgia Representative John Lewis—was established on May 4, 1961. Throughout their travels, they encountered clashes with other travelers, several large mob-style attacks, and attacks at the hands of law enforcement, which jolted America to recognize the segregation that persisted in the nation’s transit systems – particularly in the South. As a result of their persistent, valiant efforts, five months after the first Freedom Riders embarked on their historic ride, the Interstate Commerce Commission in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy issued a Federal order banning segregation in all interstate passenger buses and bus terminals based upon “race, color or creed”. The order became effective on November 1, 1961.
“The Freedom Riders literally put their lives and limbs on the line in order to bring about an America that lives up to its own stated ideals,” said Senator Reverend Warnock. “They are nothing short of American patriots, and honoring them more than 60 years after their historic acts is the least we can do. Their stories from those dark days and learning from the late Rep. John Lewis — my parishioner — has been a well of inspiration. I know I would not be serving in the United States Senate if it were not for the courage of these American heroes, so I am deeply honored to join with Senator Kennedy to introduce this bill.”
“Sixty years ago, the Freedom Riders started a courageous journey that took them from our nation’s capital to New Orleans. Their brave actions supporting civil rights richly deserve the Congressional Gold Medal. I’m happy to partner with Sen. Warnock to honor the legacy of the Freedom Riders and recognize the heroic members of this group who are still with us,” said Senator Kennedy.
The Congressional Gold Medal of Honor would recognize the Freedom Riders for their awe-inspiring contributions to Civil Rights. This would honor their accomplishments following the 60th anniversary of the rides, and honor a piece of John Lewis’ legacy just one year after his passing.
Of the original 13 freedom riders, there are now only two surviving members: Mr. Hank Thomas of Stone Mountain, GA and Mr. Charles Person of Atlanta, GA.