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Online Exhibition

This portion of the website is a collection of personal stories, quotes, news clippings, photographs, and videos of the three original Freedom Riders who visited the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Click on the links above to begin your exploration.


The Freedom Riders

This picture was taken in New Orleans - L to R. Bernard Lafayette and Dianne Nash (both major leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and guiding forces behind the 2nd tier of Freedom Riders to come out of Nashville the summer of 1961 after the original Freedom Ride was abandoned),1961 Freedom Riders Hank Thomas, Ed Blankenheim and Rev. Ben E. Cox, Sr.
Ben Cox & Ed Blankenheim
Ed Blankenheim speaks at UMS






Rev. Ben Cox consoles an emotional Ed Blankenheim during an interview where Ed recounted his experiences as a freedom rider. [Photograph by Robin Scholz. October 19th, 2003. Copyrighted by News Gazette, Champaign-Urbana, IL.]

Rev. Ben Cox, Cheryl Barber, and Ed Blankenheim This picture was taken at Urbana High School- Rev. Ben Cox, Cheryl Barber, and Ed Blankenheim.








A Reunion with the Freedom Riders
A Reunion with The Freedom Riders


Ed Blankenheim & friends

Ed Blankenheim
A young Ed Blankenheim [in middle] and friends pose for the camera.


Hank Thomas

Hank Thomas
Hank Thomas talks about his experiences as a freedom rider at Parkland College.


Video & Audio Clips
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Download video to computer: 54.8 MB; Resolution 320X240

The Black Perspectives
[27.15 minutes]

The Black Perspectives

WILL-TV recorded "Black Perspectives", an interview with Freedom Riders Ben Cox, Ed Blankenheim, and Hank Thomas to reflect upon their experiences in this historic movement.



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Download video to computer: 120 MB; Resolution 320X240

The Freedom Riders Speak Out
[1 hour and 23 minutes]

The Freedom Riders

Ben Cox, Ed Blankenheim, and Hank Thomas share their experiences at the University of Illinois in a panel discussion.


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Download video to computer: 2.18 MB; Resolution 320X240

WCIA News coverage
[ 48 seconds]

News Coverage

WCIA news brief on the freedom riders visit to Champaign-Urbana.



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Download video to computer: 581 KB; Resolution 320X240

Channel 15 News Coverage
[18 seconds]

News Coverage

Channel 15 news brief on the freedom riders visit to Champaign-Urbana.


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News Articles
To view these articles you will need Adobe Reader. Click here, to download Adobe Reader.

The Freedom March

Mob Set Race Test Bus Afire
(Anniston, AL, 1961)

"Cells Jammed" Secret Report by Bay Rider
(Jackson, MISS, 1961)

Race Riders Accuse Police of Beatings
(New Orleans, LA, 1961)

James Bawdin Advertisement
(Chicago, IL, 1963)

Flyer from Freedom CORE Rally
(Berkeley, CA)

Crossing the Rubicon: The Freedom Rides in South Carolina
(Citadel Conference on Civil Rights, 2003)

Commemorating Project 500 (The News-Gazette, 2003)

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Hank Thomas

“Has the Civil Rights movement been successful? It has been enormously successful.”

“Tonight, Ed, you are a ‘soulful white man,’ and I thank you.”

“I am not a victim. I was a soldier, a warrior.”

“I am happy, joyous even, grateful that when the music of freedom was playing, we didn’t sit it out. We chose to dance.”

“In 1961, I could not go into a McDonald’s restaurant and buy an eighteen-cent hamburger. Some twenty years later I wrote a check for $350,000 to buy that same McDonald’s restaurant.”

“Never Again.” “We have to continue to teach the past.”

“There have been tremendous changes and we stand today not as victims, but as soldiers of triumph.”

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Rev. Ben E. Cox Sr.

“If you don’t work to bring about equality, it will never come about.”

“Women have helped us more than anyone else.”

“ America to me is the greatest country on earth, but we have some dark spots, one of them being racism.”

“Once a white man asked me what I was doing when I came out of the ‘whites only’ bathroom at a bus station during the Ride, and I said ‘it was a flush-in.’ When I drank out of the ‘whites only’ drinking fountain I called it a ‘drink-in.’”

“I’ve been in jail 17 times.”

“Nonviolent direct action is to find the racial wrong and confront it and to say to the perpetrators, ‘you are wrong’ and be willing to suffer for it.”

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Ed Blankenheim

“For the first time in my life I met people who were willing to put their lives on the line and put an end to racial discrimination.”

“I felt good; I felt clean for the first time in years…really clean!”


“ Anniston was a horrid time and place for me. The violence, the beatings, the fear and the hatred were beyond anything any of us had ever had or ever would again experience.”

“The Freedom Rides succeeded because we were able to command the spotlight long enough so that the media and the government could no longer ignore the United States of America’s system of apartheid.”

“The Freedom Ride is the best example of nonviolent direct action.”


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Champaign IL 61820
217-333-1462 or 877-455-2687