RICHMOND, Va. — It has been 50 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law.
That landmark law overruled the Jim Crow laws that dominated Virginia and the South. Today some of the same people who helped change a nation, known as the Freedom Riders, took a trip to Richmond — the one time capital of the Confederacy.
The commemorative ride is designed to celebrate the signing of the Civil Rights Act half-a-century back and to recommit to the efforts put forth decades back. The Freedom Riders took aim at the transportation system, as segregation in public facilities was being enforced. By the busloads the riders, which started with 13 black and white, men and women challenged those laws.
Those who opposed the laws endured brutal beatings by the Ku Klux Klan, fire bombings and imprisonment. But nearly three years after the Freedom Riders began their journey and the Civil Rights Act became the law of the land.
Some of the same people who fought for the freedom from unfair treatment boarded buses in front of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Department of Education Building in D.C. for a symbolic ride to the River City. The group arrived at the Virginia State Capitol and was greeted by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, U.S. Senator Mark Warner and Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights.
Folks were able to follow along with the entire journey on social media, using hashtag #civilrightsride.
After the ride a forum was held at the Library of Virginia to discuss the Civil Rights Act and the implication for today’s society.
The event was organized by retiring Senator Henry Marsh and was attended by Governor Terry McAuliffe, Senator Tim Kaine, Congressman Bobby Scott, and Mayor Dwight Jones.
In attendance as a featured panelist was William Ferguson Reid – the first African American to be elected to the General Assembly in the 20th Century.
Reid was elected in 1967.
He reflected on the impact the Civil Rights Act had on the City of Richmond – and places like the Jefferson Hotel.
“It was like two different cities. They were two different societies they never met,” Reid said.
“The only way you could go in there would be in uniform,” Reid said – commenting on the White Only policy at places like the Jefferson Hotel.
Reid told CBS 6 that the Civil Rights Act must still be fought for today – saying it isn’t just about getting access to hotels.
The law also fought for equal pay for women and schools where the school population is balanced.
“I think now things may be worse than they were then,” Reid said.