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10 Freedom Riders: Then and Now

50 years ago, young civil rights activists boarded buses and trains to beat Jim Crow

Left: Police photo of Matthew Walker Jr. in 1961; right: Walker in 2007

Arrested after riding from Montgomery, Ala., to Jackson, Miss., on May 24, 1961; photographed May 25, 2007, in Nashville, Tenn. — Mississippi Department of Archives and History; Eric Etheridge

Matthew Walker Jr.

 

In 1961. Walker was a 19-year-old sophomore at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn. His father was the chairman of the surgery department at Meharry Medical College in Nashville.

In his words. "When we got to Mississippi, National Guardsmen boarded the bus with fixed bayonets on their rifles. They stood the length of the bus in the aisle. I said to one of them, 'Man, that's a mighty fancy rifle you've got there.'

"His response was, 'I ain't got one word to say to you.'

" 'Yeah,' I said to myself. 'These are our protectors.' "

Today. Walker, 69, returned to Nashville in the late 1990s after decades of work as an organizer. After dropping out of Columbia University in 1968, he coordinated rent strikes in Harlem and later worked as an organizer for the Commission for Racial Justice and the AFL-CIO.

Next: "What I had to do" >>

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