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softball say are you ready a While we were in the airport and I noticed that the number of people was slowly growing, I was quite aware that probably an attack was in the offing. There wasn't a policeman, no FBI. No, no
representatives of law and order anywhere in the airport. [Ah] We essentially had been abandoned and uh I was not happy at this point. I was no longer my cheerful defiant self and then John Seigenthaler Seigenthaler arrived from Washington. He a attorney in the attorney general's office and I'd never heard of him or met him before. But as soon as John Seigenthaler arrived, the mob began to disperse and i realize that individuals who were going around and asking people to show their tickets and they did not have a ticket they were escorted out of the airport. Ah, I guess there was some respect for federal authority. Although it didn't seem to me any local authority that cared. So the crowd dispersed and then a funny thing happened, there was a pilot who is willing to fly
an airplane and we all got aboard with great relief. We now had our luggage that we had to get from the previous plane and John Seigenthaler got aboard the plane and walked up and down the aisle and met every one of us and shook our hands. He was our savior. Just like reverend Suttles-Shuttlesworth. [inaudible] Shuttlesworth {laughs}. They seem to come from nowhere. I met him him once. Oh, never mind [laughs]. Getting ahead of myself again. [Interviewer asks - So you said, John Seigenthaler was your savior, what do you mean?] Well, it was obvious obvious that his was being there was the reason that the crowd left and that the pilot was willing to take us to New Orleans. You know, we were headed towards disaster before he arrived. [Interviewer - Um, at this point um, a decision had been
been made that the rides were over?] Basically, I guess. [Interviewer - Um, that must've been, how did that, that must've been a a you know a bad feeling, or how did you feel about that?] Well, I had reversed my position. I I, don't mind lets stop again [laughs]. Uh, when I heard that we were going to the airport and not going to be able to be able to continue to ride on the buses, I had very mixed feelings. I, for one thing, did not feel safe at all and I was no longer this fearless rider. I was [laughs], hate to say it, but somewhat relieved that I was not gonna be able to do this ah.... so, i don't think entered my my mind mind much that the freedom ride was over. [Interviewer - Why?]
Well, it seems like other things were more important like staying alive. [Interviewer - I just want to go back a little bit to the to the airport and just just give me a sense of what the feeling was like in the airport. How'd you feel? What was the feeling like? Was it fear, tension? How'd it feel in the airport? When I was in the airport I felt very different than I had the day before the day before is full of arrogance. In the airport I definitely was afraid and i was very glad to see Gordan Carey and even more glad when John Seigenthaler arrived. I don't know how other freedom riders felt. I didn't go around quizzing them. Or saying, 'Are you afraid [laughs]?' I dare say they were not too happy. [Interviewer - [coughs] [inaudible]
[Interviewer - I don't want you to say that, talk about the change in yourself.] Well, Well, overnight I became uh fearful when I'd not been before and I was no longer so interested in dying for the cause. I appreciated being alive. [pages turn, Um, coughs] [Interviewer - Had you ever been exposed to that much hatred, that much, you know venom, that these people had?] I mean it seems like that.] This This was definitely a new experience for me. I had had other encounters in the south stood in it it for a theater. In Kentucky, but that was a border state. state. I was inexperienced as far as the very deep south went and i almost couldn't believe it. You know it seems so contrary to, well I thought of, as rather harmless activity of ours. Getting something it to eat [laughs] that doesn't so
terrible. Ah, but I was was not fully prepared for what other people I think well understood that there was going to be violence in the south and I had just refused to believe it. [Interviewer [turns papers] - Um, [clears throat] How did you feel as the plane took off?] I felt enormous relief when the plane took off. I knew I was gonna to see another day. And I was very happy to meet John Seigenthaler. [papers turn] [papers turn loudly] [Inaudible noise] Was there a feeling of being beaten or defeated, as you guys [inaudible words]
As we ended the freedom ride, i am sure that is the feeling that many people had. But I primarily felt relief that this ordeal we had been in was over. And i was not thinking ahead as to what you do next. I was not thinking about whether we would resume it or certainly never occurred to me that people would flock to complete our freedom ride which they did, as you know. So, it was, you said it was a feeling of relief, would you tell me again? Yes, because we had definitely been in a great deal of danger. Some people had been hurt and the intention was if not to kill us at least make sure that we would never do anything like this again and that was very clear. Just wanted to have you say it again, wanted to know more about it because one of the things that was fascinating about the freedom ride movement when you kind of look down on it after all these years. You think well you know,
what was the big deal? [laughs] You know what I mean, you were trying to sit next to one another on a bus. Trying to eat at a restaurant, you know. And and for it to have this this much hate and venom, and and just Although i was amazed at the level of hate and venom, I came to realize that Anniston was a little different than the rest of the United States. It was a center of hatred. One of the things, that that, that I think you said to the words I'd love if you would say again is is how you were singled out as a white woman, I think you used the phrase something like - waving a cape in front of a bull. bull. I would love for you to say that again. I don't remember saying that [laughs]. I think you said that last night oh [laughing] [laughing] But But talk about, you know the fact that there this extra hatred. hatred [claps] singled out for you, you know, as a white woman. I think you did a little bit before. I would love for to you that phrase. I'm not sure
that's right. I think there was a feeling that I was a misguided white person and I should be protected because the assaults were not aimed at me. They were aimed at white males and some black males and i don't know that any of the women who you know were directly assaulted. I guess look, I have a one or two more questions. After, after the burning bus in Anniston, which became the symbol, I mean it became. You guys were now, and this was huge news now. You started out, they were ignoring you, you started out with just a couple of representatives of the black press press. But now you guys were huge news. Do you remember that? What did that feel like? I was surprised because i really was used to being ignored and I thought that would
continue that way and it was certainly in the local papers. Big headlines and there have been some kind of raid the night before so that was that wasn't the only assault going on. I want you, just to give me a little more energy. We are almost done. [laughs] OK. Ok so, you can be animated here and just say that I was surprised that this was such big news. That we were now the headlines. Somebody talked about, somebody told me a story that that a state representative was in Japan and they were trying to talking about, you know, free trade and and all the Japanese wanted to talk about was this burning bus in Anniston. [laughs] [laughs] You know, this was HUGE news, you know. We have a radio report from radio Havana, that talks about the burnings. See I didn't know any of that. I know. But you knew, at least, that it was on the front page. front page. Well I, I saw it on the front page locally. I did not realize that it was
was, you know, more than that. I remember an astronaut went up during this. I think it was when we were in Atlanta, THAT was huge news. I don't wanna talk about that, I want to stay on where we are here. This will be my last question. Ok. My last question, so talk about now that you went from nothing, you were on the front page front page of the local papers. How did that feel? What did that mean? Well, Well, when I realized that that we were getting widespread coverage. I had dual mixed feelings. One was that you gotta get hurt for it to be news. Just being refused service was not adequate and that was really a terrible realization. And I did not want to put myself in a position of going out to get hurt in order to make news. On the other hand, [scoffs] it certainly brought the situation to the attention of the whole country and that was important because we tried and tried desperately to have people take notice of
for what was going on and they just plain didn't until there was violence. But now there was that notice. Yes, that's true. There was that notice and so that part of it was not a bad feeling at all. But overall I'd say it was a very mixed feeling. Ok, let's cut. [interviewer instructs] [laughing] [interviewer instructs] When i asked to join the freedom ride. Ok, start again I was talking. When I asked to join the freedom ride and when Farmer finally consented, I was asked to fill out an application which said, as follows - I wish to apply for acceptance as a
participant in C.O.R.E.'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 arrest or personal injury to me might result and that by signing this application, my waive all rights to damages against C.O.R.E., the Congress of Racial Equality. Lets try it one more time for safety? [laughs] [inaudible voice - its how we do things, sorry.] [laughter] We're not always doing something was one more time. When I applied to James Farmer, to be a participant on the Freedom Ride, I was asked to sign the following application - I wish to apply for acceptance as a participant to C.O.R.E.'s freedom riders 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 arrest or personal injury to me might result in and that by signing this application i waive all rights to damages against C.O.R.E the Congress of Racial Equality. Actually it never occurred to me, [laughs] that I would [laughs] I think they did pay for my hospital stay as a matter of fact. Course back then it was cheap to go to the hospital. [Let's cut. Audio instructions, this is room tone] [no sounds] [audio - room tone] fb the
American Experience
Freedom Riders
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Interview with Genevieve Hughes Houghton, 3 of 3
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Genevieve Hughes Houghton was CORE field secretary on the CORE Freedom Ride May 4-17, 1961.
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American history, African Americans, civil rights, racism, segregation, activism, students
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Chicago: “American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Genevieve Hughes Houghton, 3 of 3,” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed March 3, 2024,
MLA: “American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Genevieve Hughes Houghton, 3 of 3.” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 3, 2024. <>.
APA: American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Genevieve Hughes Houghton, 3 of 3. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from