Little Bits of History

Journey of Reconciliation

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 9, 2015
Bayard Rustin Aug 1963

Bayard Rustin Aug 1963

April 9, 1947: The Journey of Reconciliation begins. The two week trip had 16 men participating in a non-violent direct action protest against segregation laws on interstate buses. Non-violent directed action was, as Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, a way to “create such a crisis and foster such a tension” that some response was forced. Eight white men and eight black men participated in a road trip via buses. There were times when the black men sat in front and times when the whites and blacks sat together, both of which were violations of current state laws which required segregation while sitting on a bus. They were encouraged by a 1946 US Supreme Court rule in Irene Morgan v Commonwealth of Virginia, 328 US 373 in which it was found that segregation in interstate travel was unconstitutional.

Segregation was legal in the South. The protests were held in the Upper South states rather than in the Deep South where violence was far more likely. Even so, the travelers were arrested several times. In North Carolina, they were brought before Judge Henry Whitfield who was even more distressed with the white participants than the black men involved. The NAACP and Thurgood Marshall had reservations about the Journey and felt it was likely to inflame and provoke violence rather than bring about justice. The NAACP did offer some limited help to the members who were arrested. The Journey has been thought to have inspired the Freedom Ride of May 1961, another attempt at attaining Civil Rights. James Peck was a participant in both trips.

George Houser was a Methodist minister and civil right activist. (He will be 99 in June.) He and James Farmer and Bernice Fisher co-founded the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) in 1942. This group was part of the impetus for the Journey of Reconciliation. In 1940 Houser was arrested and spent a year in jail for refusing entry into the draft. After his release, he went on to champion civil rights not only for those in the US, but he also sought independence for African nations. He joined with a group of pacifists in 1948 who banded together with others of like mindset. In 1949 he moved to Skyview Acres, an intentional community, and lived there for 60 years before moving to California.

Bayard Rustin was an African-American born in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He was a leader of the civil rights movement and also supported socialism, non-violence, and gay rights. In his early 20s, he moved to Harlem and supported himself as a singer while he continued to support human rights. He was a Quaker and joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) which was a pacifist group practicing non-violence and supporter of the Journey. He was arrested for homosexuality in 1953 and was criticized for bringing embarrassment to the causes of both civil rights and pacifism. He was often attacked as a “pervert” or an “immoral influence” by opposition. Because of this he was rarely the spokesperson in a cause, but rather used his influence behind the scenes. He died from complications of a ruptured appendix in 1987 at the age of 75.

Evil societies always kill their consciences. – James Farmer

Today the choice is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’m the world’s original gradualist. I just think ninety-odd years is gradual enough. – Thurgood Marshall

It’s about time you Jews from New York learned that you can’t come down here bringing your niggers with you to upset the customs of the South. Just to teach you a lesson, I gave your black boys thirty days [on a chain gang], and I give you ninety. – Henry Whitfield

Also on this day: Water, Water Everywhere – In 1829, the dike in Gdansk fails.
Windsor Wedding – In 2005, Prince Charles married Camilla.
States United – In 1865, the US Civil War came to an end.
World Class Singer – In 1939, Marian Anderson gave a concert from the Lincoln Memorial.
Free Books – In 1833, a tax for a library was passed.


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