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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 David Fankhauser in 1961; right: Fankhauser in 2006

Arrested after riding from Nashville, Tenn., to Montgomery, Ala., to Jackson, Miss., on May 28, 1961; photographed Nov. 18, 2006, in Cincinnati — Mississippi Department of Archives and History; Eric Etheridge

David Fankhauser


In 1961. Fankhauser was a 19-year-old student at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio. He grew up in a family committed to nonviolent protest. His stepfather had been imprisoned several times for refusing the draft, and his family intentionally lived below the poverty line to avoid paying taxes that would support wars.

In his words. "I make no bones about it — I'm not a courageous person. Who do you get to go to war? You get the 19-year-olds. They don't have any idea of what they're getting into. 'Well, they're not really gonna kill me, are they?' That's not to say I wasn't scared. I was scared witless.

"Before I went to Jackson, I went home and shaved off my beard. My mom gave me a haircut. I know she was worried, but she was proud — just like the mothers are proud when their sons go off to war. They hope for the best, but they're proud of them doing what they see as a duty."

Today. Fankhauser, 69, is a professor of chemistry and biology at University of Cincinnati Clermont College in Batavia, Ohio, where he's taught since 1973.

Next: "We imagined every horror" >>

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