The community is invited to a special session of Orange County Superior Court scheduled for June 17, 2022 at 2 p.m. in the Historic Courthouse in Hillsborough (106 E. King Street). Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood will open the court session and Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour will preside. The sole matter before the Court will be a Motion for Appropriate Relief seeking to vacate posthumously the 1947 convictions of four original Freedom Riders in the Civil Rights movement.
On April 9, 1947, an interracial group of 16 men began the Journey of Reconciliation, the first “freedom ride,” to challenge continued Jim Crow segregation on buses despite the 1946 U.S. Supreme Court Morgan v. Virginia ruling declaring segregation on interstate travel unconstitutional. After an overnight stay in Chapel Hill, the buses prepared to leave. The riders, Black and white, sat in front, while an angry mob of cab drivers gathered outside the bus.
Police were called to the scene. Four riders—Bayard Rustin, Igal Roodenko, Andrew Johnson and Joseph Felmet—were arrested for Disorderly Conduct for refusing to move from the front of the bus. The four men subsequently were convicted in the Orange County Courthouse in Hillsborough and sentenced to serve 30 days on a chain gang. Civil Rights leader Bayard Rustin later wrote about his experiences of incarceration and hard labor in North Carolina, and this work is credited with reforming the practice of prison chain gangs.
“While this judicial action is taking place 75 years after the injustice occurred, never should we falter in examining past wrongs, seeking reparation, and lifting those heavy burdens from our hearts and minds so that future generations may know justice,” said Renée Price, Chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners. “We also must recognize the brave individuals who stood up in the face of Jim Crow to demand our humanity and our liberation. Seeking legal redress for Roodenko, Rustin, Felmet and Johnson as we prepare for the Juneteenth holiday is timely and relevant.”
A short program will be part of the court session and will include Price, District Attorney James R. Woodall, Public Defender Woodrena Baker-Harrell, Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger, Dr. Freddie Parker, Professor Emeritus of History at NCCU, LaTarndra Strong, President of the Northern Orange Branch of the NAACP, and Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue. Family members and friends of Mr. Rustin, Mr. Roodenko, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Felmet will attend this event and will also participate.
For those unable to attend in person, the court session and program will be live-streamed via Zoom at the link below. The broadcast will begin at approximately 2 p.m.