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They came from different backgrounds, but Genevieve Houghton and Thomas Madison Armstrong III risked their lives for the cause for civil rights by joining the Freedom Rides that tested the Jim Crow laws of the South in the spring and summer of 1961. Armstrong and Houghton described their experiences to WSIU's Jak Tichenor prior to a local preview screening of the new documentary film American Experience: Freedom Riders, in which both are featured. The screening was held at the Varsity Center for the Arts in Carbondale on April 2, 2011.
Houghton, who now lives in Carbondale, was field secretary for the Congress for Racial Equality when she became one of the original group of 13 whites and African Americans who boarded a pair of buses in Washington, D.C. bound for the South. Their goal was to challenge local laws and customs that enforced racial segregation in public transportation in the South, despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling banning the practice. Houghton's Freedom Ride ended violently in Anniston, Alabama when her bus was firebombed by a white mob and many of the riders were savagely beaten.
Armstrong, who now lives in Naperville, Illinois, was a student at Tougaloo College near Jackson, Mississippi and had been active in the Civil Rights movement prior to the Freedom Rides. When the first Freedom Ride was aborted by the violence in Alabama, Armstrong joined hundreds of college students and others who organized their own Freedom Rides to take over where the first group had been halted.
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