American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Rev. Mae Frances Moultrie Howard, 1 of 2
[silence] [silence, background noise] [Interviewer] Okay Mae, try to read it one time with feeling. [Howard] I wish to apply for acceptance as a participant in CORE's Freedom Ride 1961 to travel by bus from Washington D.C. to New Orleans, Louisiana and test and challenge segregated facilities en route. I understand that I shall be participating in a non-violent protest against racial discrimination, that arrest or personal injury to me might result and that I
by signing this application shall waive all rights to damage against CORE. The Congress of Racial Equality, its directors, its offers, and other sponsoring organization, and all other in any way connected with the Freedom Ride. [Interviewer] Okay, let's do it one more time. Why don't you just keep your head down on the thing, we're getting a little kick on your eyes. Again, and the more emphasis you can be, you know, I realize that arrests, all these bad things could happen to you. Hold on, let's cut. Okay Mae, one more time. [Howard] I wish to apply for acceptance as a participant-- [Interviewer] Sorry, let me have you start again, somebody was beeping their horn, I'm sorry. Start again. [Howard] I wish to apply for acceptance as a participant in CORE's Freedom Ride, 1961, to travel via
bus from Washington D.C. to New Orleans, Louisiana and to test and challenge segregated facilities en route. I understand that I shall be participating in a non-violent protest against racial discrimination, that arrests or personal injury to me might result, and that by signing this application I waive all rights to damages against CORE. [Interviewer] That's enough, let's do it one more time, start over. Now you were fine, it's just the noise we just want to make sure we get it without the noise. Let's make sure we get some emotion in here. Let's go, Mae. Wait for the bus. [sings] Okey dokey [speaks] Okay. [Howard] I wish to apply for acceptance as a participant-- [Interviewer] Let's start again, you can just be a little more, "I wish to apply," you know, this is your
application. "I wish to apply," okay, it's a big deal. [Howard] I wish to apply for acceptance-- [Interviewer] One more time. [Howard] I wish to apply for acceptance as a participant in CORE's Freedom Ride 1961 to travel via bus from Washington D.C. to New Orleans, Louisiana and to test and challenge segregated facilities en route. I understand that I should be participating in a non-violent protest against racial discrimination, that arrest or personal injury to me might result and that by signing this application I waive all rights to damages against CORE. This the Congress of Racial Equality-- [Interviewer] Okay I think that's good, I think we got it. [cut] So Mae, why did you become a Freedom Rider? [Howard] Well I was always interested in doing anything I could to help our country
or the community, neighbors, I'm just an outreach person and I'm not a person who are afraid, I never was as a child afraid to get involved in anything and so this was the opportunity when the crowd, the group came to [Morse?] College and explained to the students about this non-violent bus ride, this movement that was going through the south, so that was my opportunity to get involved. [Interviewer] Okay, let's cut. [cut] --Freedom Rides. [Howard] Okay. [Interviewer] Go. [Howard] I joined the Freedom Rides 1961, think it was a Mother's Day, on May the 14th because I was interested in doing what I could to help our country since I was not afraid and people were concerned about me going on the trip but I was
not afraid and there were people that were actually praying for me and the church, the community, friends, they were all willing for me to go since I was not afraid. [Interviewer] The more you came in, I know you took your glasses off, but try to look at me as much as you possibly can and try if you can to hold your hands still because we actually hearing that, the mike is hearing that. You said that you wanted to help the country, how would the Freedom Rides, or how did you think the Freedom Rides would help the country? Again, you're back in '61, how did you think the Freedom Rides would help the country? [Howard] Well I think the Freedom Riders helped the country because the law had passed where we were able to ride the buses or go and sit at lunch counters
but the law in Alabama said that we could not sit at lunch counters. But when we were arrived Mother's Day 1961 in Sumpter, South Carolina, we didn't have any problems getting on the bus, no problems at the bus station-- [Interviewer] Let me stop again because it kind of went from one thing to another. I just want to want you to, I'm going to ask you again, were you at the dinner in Atlanta with Martin Luther King, do you remember that at all? [Howard] I don't remember the dinner with Martin Luther King. [Interviewer] There was-- [cut] On that Mother's Day getting on that bus, I just want that first, getting on that bus going from Atlanta into Alabama, how did you feel? [Howard] Well I felt very grateful and very proud that Mothers' Day Sunday. It was a beautiful clear day and I had my mind on our days' travel to
head for Columbia and and to Atlanta and through Alabama. [Interviewer] Do you remember what you-- what did you think about-- what it did look like as you drove through the countryside of the south? Do you remember any of that? [Howard] Well just driving as-- from the place where I got on the bus, it was so beautiful and this was a very very calm day and we didn't feel that anything was happening much and we were surprised in Sumpter and as we rode to Columbia and to Atlanta, it was just exciting and it was so quiet we couldn't imagine what might be happening. [Interviewer] I want to ask you that again, because really on the Mothers' Day you're coming out of Atlanta, not going through Sumpter or-- you know, that point you're in Atlanta and you're getting on that bus on Mothers' Day. So how did it feel, what were you thinking as you left Atlanta? [Howard] Well after we left
Atlanta we could hear the radio playing very clearly, I was sitting about midway of the bus on the left side and we asked the drive "put the sound up," we could hear them saying that this crowd was forming uh near Anniston, Alabama a few miles away uh and they would be attacking the bus and they explained the different kinds of instrument, fighting tools they had, and our minds begin to sort of turn around then because it explained the danger that we would be coming through on this interstate highway coming into Anniston, Alabama. [Interviewer] I'm going to ask you that one more time, we had a bus stop behind-- I'm sorry, we got a lot of sound problems but we're going to make it through. I like that, tell me that again, your feelings as you left Atlanta on the Mothers' Day. How did you feel that day?
[Howard] As we left Atlanta, Georgia that day we were still talking and having a little bit of fun on the bus and talking about the beautiful day and talking about our mothers, we hoped that the mothers were having a good day and as we drove a few miles outside of Atlanta we began to listen to the radio and the news was on speaking about this mob forming outside of Anniston, I think they were saying about five or six miles, and the attackers were forming like a parade, a real parade, and they had all kinds of instruments, tools to fight or to beat the bus or to kill, whatever, and they were saying that some had farm tools, pitchforks, bats, lead pipes, and just all kinds of tools and they said they were all
ages, men, young men, middle-aged, older men, waiting for the bus. [Interviewer] Were you scared then, were you personally scared then? How did you feel then? [Howard] Well we begin to change from being happy and jovial and the conversation changed about how beautiful the scenery was and we began to think because we can hear so clearly about this trouble and my, I myself personally, I started to pray that God would protect us and keep us from injury because we could-- we knew that these people had all these instruments and they could damage the tires of the bus or cause any kind of problems or troubles so we begin to, or I began to feel different than I did in the beginning. [Interviewer] I'm going to ask you again, try as hard as you can to look me in the eye. One more, how did you feel once you heard that thing, were you scared?
How were you--? [Howard] It was really surprising to know about-- to hear about the parade of men and how many it was, they were saying it was maybe 200, 150 attackers and the kind of fighting instruments and tools they had. I began to feel a bit frightened and my mind changed and I began to think about what would happen to us as we arrived near, the damage that could be done, or if we would make it through Anniston, Alabama. [Interviewer] Great. Sorry ma'am that we're hearing all this noise, you'll have to just excuse us and try to work with us. Okay, so talk about what you remember seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, thinking, as you got into Anniston, not outside of Anniston, but when you first got into Anniston. [Howard] Well when-- pulling into Anniston before the bus
stopped, or when the bus slowed down, the parade of men and boys began to come close to the bus as the bus was pulling in very slowly and we could see that they were not playing because they began to hit on the side of the bus as the bus slowed down, and they began to slash the tire of one, one of the tires was slashed, and the men began to come closer and surround the bus completely and then we didn't know what would happen at this time because they were coming so close to the bus. [Interviewer] Let's cut a minute. [clears throat] One of the things that you said was that the men came and surrounded
the bus- trying to talk slowly here- and slashed the tires, how did you know they slashed the tires? Hold on one second, I'm sorry [background noise] Let's cut. [cut] How did you know they slashed the tires? [Howard] Well actually we could hear the voices of the people talking and someone yelled out that this tire was slashed and the bus was slowing down, or the bus was almost to come to a halt. That's how we knew some of the things that was happening outside. [Interviewer] Talk about again what the mob was like when you pulled into Anniston. [Howard] Well it was really a giant-sized mob. I would say there was more than 250 people and I was having a feeling that we didn't see any policemen at that time or any kind of protection at all, no fire
department, no ambulance, no policeman, and it was a feeling that it was all of the men of the town or the city of Anniston that was involved in this, in participating in this parade that they were having against the Freedom Riders and the bus. [Interviewer] One more time, so what was the mob like? [Howard] Oh it was a giant-sized mob and I would like to call it a parade because as we came through they were lined up on the side but as the bus stopped the men become-- became very-- they came close to the bus and started to surrounding the bus. [Interviewer] Talk about the fact that they were hitting the bus and breaking windows and stuff like that. What were they doing? [Howard] Well we could hear and we could tell that they were pipes and all kinds of instruments that were hitting the bus because at one point they broke a window in the bus, we could hear the crash of the window and the men voices, one man said that "we wanted to
get these nigger lovers--" there were nigger lovers on the bus and they were just saying, "these niggers need to get off this bus," and one person said in a very loud voice, "let's kill these niggers on this bus and these nigger lovers." [Interviewer] Mm-hmm. How'd you feel at that point, you must have been scared? [Howard] Well that was before the bomb came in, that was before this big crack came in the window right behind where I was sitting. And I heard someone say at this point "get on the floor" and when I heard that sound I could hear voices but all the voices were not clear voices because there was a lot of excitement outside, the men outside were yelling "niggers, nigger-hater" and and so finally right in the back of where I was sitting, just midway of the bus, this is where the first brick came through the window and after that it was, it was, you could hear them say
"throw it in, throw it in," and asking "where is the gas, where is the gas," and by that time something came through the bus and we could smell a fume and someone yelled from the door "get down on the floor," and that's what I did, I got down on the floor and I stayed there through all of the other activities was going on. [Interviewer] What's the next thing you remember, you're down on the floor-? [Howard] Well I was down on the floor and I could hear windows cracking and you could hear whatever they were hitting the buses with and the windows cracking. [Interviewer] Mm-hmm. What happened next? [Howard] Well after that I could not see, I didn't see who was standing in the door of the bus but I did hear voices outside or inside saying, "no don't let the people get off," and there was a voice saying, "get down, stay down, stay down," and windows began to still crack, and I was on the floor at this time really praying and asking God to just protect the people and save us from death.
And in my mind was all of the people, Mothers' Day was still on my mind because it was such a beautiful day outside, and I call it "Bloody Sunday" because when they started to beating on the people you could see the bloody faces and the kicking of the people and the hitting and it was a very bad scene. [Interviewer] Okay, let's go back a little bit. You're still on the bus. You're on the-- they're yelling "stay down, stay down," smoke is starting to fill up the bus, how did you get off the bus? [Howard] Well I was the last person I believe got on the bus because I didn't get-- [Interviewer] Let's start again, you said "on the bus," you mean off the bus, right? [Howard] I was still on the floor at this point and I could hear talking but I remember learning from the Red Cross that when there was smoke or smoke damage to stay near the floor and I was still praying until I heard someone said "now is the time, get off," and I was down on my knees and that's how I scampered to the door and I believe that's why I didn't get hurt. [Interviewer] And when you got to the door, you got outside, talk about what's happening, talk about the beating
and the hitting. [Howard] Well when I got out of the bus I don't know whether if I ran out of the bus, I don't know if I fell out of the door because I was still low and when I knew anything I was sitting on the grass and people were around me and I could see the pushing of the other people, I was still on the ground and I was not hurt, nobody touched me or anything but there was quite a bit of beating and pushing and name calling, "nigger lover" and "niggers." [Interviewer] Okay, let's cut. Okay. [Howard] While I was sitting in the front of the bus and this mob of people, this mob of killers that were running around calling "niggers" name, I could see then from sitting there while I was coughing and trying to stay composed, one man, I don't remember his name, but they beat him and kicked
him until I just thought he would die right there and there were other people being grabbed and pulled around and just, it was a scene of inhuman-- you wouldn't think that any human being could be treated in such a manner as I saw there that day. [Interviewer] Give me a sense of-- this is the other thing, in the way that we don't understand, Mae, is that you guys were scared to get off the bus, right, because these people were beating people off the bus, but you were also scared to stay on the bus because there's a bomb on the bus and the bus started to fill up with smoke, right, that's kind of what's happening, right? Go ahead. [Howard] Well in the beginning before I got off the bus, there was someone standing in the door of the bus which I did not see, it was a man, I don't know whether it was the FBI or some private person and they said not to get off but when it was safe I didn't see around, he said "now get off," and then when we came off the bus this is
when we saw all this beating and all these people running around slinging their fighting instruments and the tools that they had.
- American Experience
- Freedom Riders
- Contributing Organization
- WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- Rev. Mae Frances Moultrie Howard was a student at Morris College on the CORE Freedom Ride, May 4-17, 1961
- American history, African Americans, civil rights, racism, segregation, activism, students
- (c) 2011-2017 WGBH Educational Foundation
- Media type
- Moving Image
Release Agent: WGBH Educational Foundation
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: barcode357659_Howard_01_SALES_ASP_h264 Amex 1280x720.mp4 (unknown)
Identifier: cpb-aacip-15-s46h12wc56.mp4 (mediainfo)
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- Chicago: “American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Rev. Mae Frances Moultrie Howard, 1 of 2,” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 24, 2024, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-s46h12wc56.
- MLA: “American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Rev. Mae Frances Moultrie Howard, 1 of 2.” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 24, 2024. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-s46h12wc56>.
- APA: American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Rev. Mae Frances Moultrie Howard, 1 of 2. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-s46h12wc56