Rev. Reginald Green talked about riots, mobs and being arrested. He was a Freedom Rider and shared his firsthand experiences from more than 50 years ago with Theodore G. Davis Middle School students. Davis social studies teacher Duania Darby invited Green to Davis on Feb. 24 after her seventh graders completed a unit for Black History Month on the Freedom Riders, a group of civil rights activists formed in the 1960s.
Darby said she thought the students would enjoy hearing a firsthand account of the Freedom Rides. “We were studying last week about Freedom Riders and what better way to learn about the rides than to hear from someone who lived it,” Darby said. During the 1960s the civil rights movement was in full swing across the United States, with groups organizing social movements to help end racial segregation and discrimination against African Americans.
“On May 4, 1961, 13 people boarded two buses – 6 white and 7 black – to travel to the South. The goal was to get to New Orleans to celebrate the anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling. These riders wanted to test if the Supreme Court ruling would be enforced in the South. One bus was stopped near Anderson, Alabama. People were rioting and the bus was bombed. All were evacuated but seeing that burning bus on the news that day, I knew I wanted to get involved,” Green said.
Green, who was a student at Virginia Union University studying ministry at the time, joined several other college students on his first Freedom Ride out of Richmond on June 7, 1961, with a destination of Jackson, Mississippi. He was in the third group of Freedom Riders to join the movement and was one of 61 riders. Green said during his first ride, his bus was almost at its destination when news of riots came over the bus’s two-way radio.
“We were scared. There were reports of riots and mobs waiting for us – messages about riders who were about to encounter trouble,” he said. Green, along with his fellow riders, was arrested and jailed in Jackson’s Hinds County Jail for five weeks. Davis student Alex Wright asked Green about his time in jail and how his parents reacted when they found out he had been arrested. He said his family learned of his arrest from a local reporter, but that his parents were not upset with his actions. “My Dad was always immensely proud,” Green said.
Davis seventh grader Hannah King asked Green how his experiences as a Freedom Rider changed his life. “We are formed by the experiences we have and the relationships we form. I needed to do something that I believed in… needed to say what I believed,” Green said.
Green left the students with three important messages: celebrate what makes you unique, anyone has the ability to make a difference in the community and stay focused on education. King said Green taught her how decisions she makes now can affect her in the future. “His comments today really made an impact on me about how what you do when you are younger affects you when you are older,” she said.
Justin Beverly, also a seventh grader at Davis, said it was amazing to hear from someone who has helped to change America. “It was awesome to hear about how the Freedom Riders have changed the lives of people… helped to change America and address racism,” he said.
For his actions and courage, Green was honored by his community for his role in the civil rights movement as a Freedom Rider. He went on to earn his bachelor and master’s degrees in divinity studies, worked for the D.C. Department of Housing, served as an instructor with the Washington Baptist Seminary and Howard University, and is currently the interim pastor of First Rising Mt. Zion Baptist Church in D.C.