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About the Freedom Riders

Meet three of the twelve orignial freedom riders who risked their lives to challenge segregation in the Deep South in 1961. The Reverend Ben Cox, Hank Thomas, and Ed Blankenheim are true heros that helped paved the way for equality in the United States. Click on their pictures to learn about their experiences and to find out more about these amazing men.

Ben Cox
Hank Thomas
Ed Blankenheim
Ben Cox
Hank Thomas
Ed Blankenheim


Ben Cox shares his experiences with Cheryl Barber, program director in Conferences and Institutes. Click on the speakers below to hear his response. You need to have a media player installed to listen to the audio files. Click here to download RealOne Player 10.

Audio Briefly explain how your early years motivated you to actively participate as an adult in the civil rights movements?

AudioWhere did the NAACP begin?

AudioHow did the freedom ride begin and what was its purpose?

AudioWhere did it begin? AudioWhere were you headed?

AudioCan you tell us about some of the original freedom riders?

AudioWhat happened along the route the buses took?

AudioWhy did the buses never reach New Orleans?

AudioWhat else happened after the Freedom Ride?

AudioTell us a little bit about the events that led up to your Supreme Court Decision?

AudioDo you think through the Freedom Rides and other events in the 60’s has it made a difference in our country?

AudioSo, you do think we have made progress in Civil Rights?

AudioYou have said that white people have contributed to the civil rights movement. Can you elaborate on that?

AudioIn the 21 st century, what do you still needing to be done?

AudioIs there any thing else you would like to share with us? AudioClosing of interview

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Ben Cox
Click here to read more about Ben Cox


Hank Thomas recalls the horrors of the trip for CNN [Aired May 12, 2001 on CNN]

I wasn't supposed to go. I was only 19. My roommate at the time, John Moody, had signed up to go, had taken all of the training, and he was set to go. And I think at the last minute, he became ill.

Winnsboro, South Carolina. Congressman Lewis got off the bus to go in to use the white facilities. And soon as he got off the bus, he was attacked by a mob that was already waiting there. And went I went into the waiting room, I went into the rest room, I was almost relieved when they came in to arrest me.

Very late that night, two police officers came to get me out of the cell, not saying a single word to me. They said, "You wanted to leave? Well, we're going to take you to the bus station so you can leave." We turned the corner to the bus station. All of the lights were out, and a very large crowd was there, 50, 60 guys. I said, "You can't put me out here. These people will beat me up." He put his hand on his gun and he said, "Nigger, get out of this car."

And when I got out, the police burned rubber taking off.

The crowd started coming toward me. They had sticks, maybe bats or stuff like that. And I looked around to find out which direction I'm going to run. At that moment, a car pulled up, a black man was driving. He says, "Son, get in." I jumped in the car. He said, "Get down on the floor and don't move." That man saved my life that night. He took me on to Columbia, South Carolina, and I stayed the night at Benedicts College there. And I rejoined the group later on.

As we drove in to the city of Anniston, all of the streets were deserted. And didn't take us long to get to the bus station. And we turned the corner to the bus station, nothing but a crowd of men all over the station, yelling and screaming. And when we pulled in, they surrounded the bus. Unbeknownst to us, the tires of the bus had been slashed. The bus driver pulled over. At the place where he pulled over, a large crowd of people had gathered, and they started to rock the bus, as much as you could rock a Greyhound bus.

An incendiary device was either thrown or shot aboard the bus in the back. And immediately the bus started burning.

Well, the crowd then held the door. And I could hear, "Let's burn them niggers alive." The thing that saved us was, one of the fuel tanks on the bus exploded, and when that tank exploded, it blew out the back of the bus, and everybody in the crowd ran.

Finally got off, and maybe a few feet away from the door, guy came up to me, and he asked me, said, "You all right, boy?" And I'm just thinking, Well, you know, somebody just concerned about me, and I just nodded my head and said, "Yes." And he hit me with a baseball bat.

As any warrior gets older, he slows down physically. And he stops to kind of smell the roses. Obviously, they will never have to go through any of the things that I went through as an African- American, as a black person in this country.

And I am very proud, only lately, I can bask in the fact that I had a small part to play in changing this country. [Credit: CNN Transcripts. Click here to order this video or transcript from CNN]

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Hank Thomas

Click here to read more about Hank Thomas


AudioListen to an interview on April 7th, 2001 by NPR with Ed Blankenheim & Ben Cox.

Whenever someone told Ed Blankenheim he didn’t have to risk life and limb in the cause of civil rights, he would vehemently disagree. Hank Thomas had just such a conversation with Blankenheim last October, when they and the two other surviving civil-rights activists known as the Freedom Riders participated in a panel discussion at the University of Illinois

Blankenheim was not in the best of shape, and both men knew it might be the last time they would be together, Thomas recalled. Blankenheim had traveled there from San Francisco, Thomas from Stone Mountain, Ga. I said to him publicly how much I appreciated him, for doing all he’d done when he didn’t have to, Thomas said.

At that point, Thomas said, Blankenheim launched into the story of his first encounters with racial segregation, in the early 1950s: he was a marine, stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and had become friends with a black man. On base, the two were treated as equals, but whenever they went into nearby Jacksonville, separation became the rule.

He cried, because there was nothing he could do, Thomas said. Blankenheim wanted to challenge the status quo, but his friend said, “Hey, don’t do it.” It just tore him up inside. So, he told me, “Hank, don’t ever say, “I didn’t have to do it.

Blankenheim, Thomas and 11 others did indeed risk life and limb in the early 1960s to desegregate lunch counters, bus stations, restrooms and other public facilities in Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Three of them, or maybe six, remain. Blankenheim died Sunday, Sept. 26, 2004 of cancer. He was 70. We were glad we had the opportunity to change this country,”Thomas said. “He will always be my hero.”


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Ed Blankenheim

Click here to read Ed Blankenheim's Obituray.


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