A Beach, Cotton, and Freedom Riders

If you woke up in the morning at a Florida Gulf Coast beach, would you want to drive away and leave it behind? Naturally, our first thought was, “Maybe we should stay another day?” When we discovered that the beach was closed due to Tropical Storm Karen, (even though it was sunny, 85 degrees, and a more steady surf than yesterday), our decision to go back to Montgomery was made more easily.


Two Red Flags = Closed Beach


While driving back to Montgomery, we decided to stop and get a first-hand look at some cotton plants that were just about ready for harvest. We had been told that just before harvesting, they “defoliate” the plants, which turns the plants all brown and dead-looking, leaving the bolls exposed for easy harvesting by machine. We’ve seen a lot of brown fields full of white cotton, but the field we stopped to see was still green.


The bolls felt – cottony – and a little damp.


Back on the road after the cotton stop, we headed for the Greyhound bus terminal in Montgomery where the Freedom Riders had been attacked by the KKK on Mother’s Day, 1961. There is now a small museum there.


There really isn’t much left of the original bus station, other than this marquis and façade. You can also see what was the “colored” entrance to the station, which the Greyhound company bricked over in the late 1960’s. Inside there is a display of short biographies of many of the Freedom Riders. It tells what they were doing in 1961, and it tells what they’ve done since and what they are doing today.


After the attackers of the Freedom Riders were finally dispersed by police after that Mother’s Day attack, there was a mass meeting held in the church pastored by Ralph Abernathy. So, of course, we went to see the church:


While this mass meeting was underway, a mob gathered outside and were threatening to firebomb the church. Federal marshals and the National Guard eventually dispersed the mob around midnight. Some of the folks inside stayed in the church until dawn to be sure they would be safe.


Many of the leaders of the movement took refuge in the home of a leading black pharmacist by the name of Dr. Richard Harris. So, of course, we went to see that house.


As I reflect back on all that we saw and did today, I’m a little amazed. I don’t think we can keep up this pace.



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