Austin, TX

When a Campaign Bus Was Attacked in Austin, Texas, it Was Reminiscent of the Freedom Riders

Carol Lennox

Four days before the 2020 election, a Biden/Harris campaign bus was nearly run off the road by Trump supporters in big pick up trucks, the type you find throughout rural America. They were flying Trump and American flags, and openly carrying weapons.

This wasn’t a dark back road. It was on a major interstate, in the middle of Austin, the capitol of Texas. Austin, Texas is the twelfth fastest growing city in the U.S. It's also is the most liberal city in Texas, and much more liberal than a lot of other places in other states. It also happened in broad daylight.

The trucks surrounded the Biden/Harris bus, with the ones pulling in front of the bus slowing down to a crawl. A truck behind the bus rammed into a car in the Biden/Harris cavalcade accompanying the bus. Threats were yelled and guns were waved.

In the 1960’s Freedom Riders boarded buses from the north, to travel into the deep south to protest segregation on buses and in bus stations. They were met with harassment and violence. The rides led to the Voter Education Act, and the unprecedented registering of Black voters throughout the southern United States.

Since the Jim Crow laws that were established shortly after slaves were freed, suppression of Black voters in the south was rampant. Freedom Riders and others in the Civil Rights Movement vowed and worked to change that.

Freedom Riders were Black and White people, mostly young, who rode side by side on buses through the deep south where integration was still illegal in many states. The states were violating Supreme Court rulings against segregation.

Freedom Riders offended racists on two levels. Riding together in blatant disregard of segregation laws, and later by daring to go into the Black communities and register people to vote. People who were often afraid to vote or even register to vote in person because of violence against them, or couldn’t afford to vote when there was a poll tax.

The Freedom Rider buses were followed by racists in cars and trucks, and filled with people who were usually armed. One bus was set on fire, while riders were still on board. Most of this was done under cover of darkness. Day or night, state and local officials did not intervene in the harassment.

In 1961, Freedom Riders began riding integrated, interstate buses into the southern states, to protest states not following the Supreme Court rulings to integrate buses. As a result of the harassment of Freedom Riders, the Voter Education Project was established with the encouragement of President John F. Kennedy, and the cooperation of several Civil Rights groups. President Kennedy, and Attorney General, Robert Kennedy, wanted the Civil Rights Movement to concentrate on voter registration and protection, rather than demonstrations.

The Congress of Racial Equality, who’s Los Angeles director, Arthur Silvers, was a man I came to know, respect, and love in the 2000s, became recognized for the first time as a major player in the Equal Rights Movement. Private foundations donated money to the Voter Education Project, and in 1965, the Voter Education Project registered over 175,000 new Black votrs. It’s work continued through 1992, and at one time was led by Congressman John Lewis. of Congressman John Lewis, at a Black Lives Matter protest. Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Lewis had reason to lead the project. On May 14, 1961, the bus Freedom Riders rode into Alabama was followed and forced past the bus station by 200 racists. A tire blew out, and a bomb was thrown into the bus. When the Freedom Riders fled the burning bus, they were severely beaten.

John Lewis was hit in the head and suffered a concussion. His fellow riders, a White World War Two veteran, Albert Bigelow, and another Black Freedom Rider, were also seriously beaten and injured.

In two other similar situations in North Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi, riders were beaten with pipes and baseball bats while attempting to use the Whites Only bathrooms and lunchrooms in the bus stations.

These stories used to seem so long ago, even to those of us who grew up in that era. Until this past election.

Since the Biden/Harris bus was surrounded and forced to slow down, and a car in its caravan was hit by a Trump supporter, other Biden/Harris campaign buses were subsequently harassed. Fortunately, the buses were not forced off the road, although that appears to be the intent. If they had been, what would have happened to the riders, including Wendy Davis, of Texas, who was on the bus in Austin?

Would the Trump supporters have gone so far as to attack them? We won’t know, but it can be extrapolated from the fact that the Trump supporters were openly carrying guns, and rammed one of the cars in the caravan, that it would have gotten even uglier. The later violence at the Capitol Building also gives us a clue of what could have happened.

Now that we know, or have been reminded of the struggles it took to obtain voting rights for Black people, what can we do today?

We can continue the push to register people to vote who have been disenfranchised. We can volunteer. We can speak out against harassment and violence toward campaign buses, campaigners, and voters.

In Texas alone, over two million new voters voted, and voted early in the November 2020 election. Many of them are between the ages of 18 and 29. Maybe they learned about the Civil Rights Movement in school. If they didn’t, we must teach them.

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My purpose is to inspire and inform. You can read more by me on, and on the Good Men Project. I've had a lifetime of valuable experiences, and I want to share the lessons I've learned readily, or been forced to learn. I'm a psychotherapist, a hypnotherapist, a mother to my amazing son, Blake Scott, whom I write about often. I also write about race, equality, social justice, sex, government, and Mindfulness, not in that order.

Austin, TX

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