HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The Orange County Superior Court is scheduled to posthumously vacate the convictions of four original Freedom Riders this week.
On April 9, 1947, an interracial group of 16 men began the Journey of Reconciliation to challenge continued Jim Crow segregation on buses. The Journey would later be known as the first Freedom Ride.
The group stayed overnight in Chapel Hill. As they prepared to leave, Black and white riders sat at the front of the bus. An angry mob of cab drivers then gathered outside the bus.
When police arrived, they arrested four riders — Bayard Rustin, Igal Roodenko, Andrew Johnson and Joseph Felmet — for disorderly conduct for refusing to move from the front of the bus. All four were eventually sentenced to serve 30 days of hard labor on a chain gang.
Rustin wrote about his experience and was credited with reforming the practice of prison chain gangs.
“While this judicial action is taking place 75 years after the injustice occurred, never should we falter in examining past wrongs, seeking reparation, and lifting those heavy burdens from our hearts and minds so that future generations may know justice,” said Renée Price, chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners.
Price said it was important to recognize brave individuals who stood up against Jim Crow.
“Seeking legal redress for Roodenko, Rustin, Felmet and Johnson as we prepare for the Juneteenth holiday is timely and relevant,” Price said.
A special session of the Orange County Superior Court is scheduled for for 2 p.m. Friday at the Historic Courthouse in Hillsborough. Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood is scheduled to open the court session and Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour will preside.
A short program that includes several community leaders will take place during the court session. Family members and friends of Rustin, Roodenko, Johnson and Felmet are also scheduled to be part of the event.