Freedom Riders

Freedom Riders were civil rights activists who rode interstate buses into segregated Southern states in 1961 and following years to challenge the non-enforcement of United States Supreme Court decisions which ruled that segregated public buses were unconstitutional. The Southern states had ignored the rulings and the federal government did nothing to enforce them.

Lift every voice and sing

Till earth and heaven ring,

Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;

Let our rejoicing rise

High as the listening skies,

Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,

Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us.

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,

Let us march on till victory is won.”— James Weldon Johnson (2014 Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame Inductee)

During the celebrations of the United States Bicentennial in 1976, President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month as a time to celebrate the many contributions of African-Americans to our nation’s diverse history. From Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas to Mary McLeod Bethune and Florida Supreme Court Justice Leander J. Shaw, Jr., Americans and Floridians have a long and storied history of African-Americans who have touched every area of endeavor of our daily lives.

In addition to the major figures in African-American history who have helped shape the United States, countless civil rights pioneers in Florida have been equally as noteworthy and should be reflected upon as agents of change in our state.

For the last eight years, the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) has recognized Florida’s civil rights pioneers through the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame. In 2019, Daniel Perkins, one of Florida’s first African-American attorneys who argued in front of the Florida Supreme Court against legislation which would ban African-American lawyers from practicing in our state; Charles Ullman Smith, an active leader in the Tallahassee bus boycott and counter sit-ins; and Henry “Hank” James Thomas, one of the original Freedom Riders, were the latest civil rights heroes chosen by Gov. Ron DeSantis for induction into the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame. These three men were recognized for their lifetime of service to advocating for those without a voice.

All Americans have much to celebrate during Black History Month. Let us all join together and recognize the many ways African-Americans have inspired and enriched Florida’s communities, culture and history.

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