The commemoration of the 1961 Mississippi Freedom Rides scheduled for next year may overshadow any other tourism event the state has ever seen, the Associated Press reported.
The 2011 remembrance of the protest against segregated interstate bus travel is set to draw visitors from across the country, with President Barack Obama set to also attend. According to event coordinators, national and international entertainers, writers and journalists who covered the Civil Rights movement are among those scheduled to participate in the May 22-28, 2011 commemoration.
“This is part of Mississippi’s heritage and part of tourism and will be the largest event in Mississippi history,” Reuben Anderson, a former state Supreme Court justice and a member of the Mississippi board planning the 50th anniversary told the AP. “ started the movement that changed the way people thought about circumstances in America.”
Over 50 years ago, a biracial group of civil rights activists gathered on interstate buses to expose the strict segregation that was still prevalent in the south, despite a Supreme Court ruling that outlawed it.
The strategy for the activists was for Blacks to sit in the front of the bus, while Whites sat in the back. Blacks would purposely use white-only bathrooms at rest stops also.
During the group’s journey from Washington D.C. to the South, they were firebombed, stoned and attacked by racists in Alabama. Upon their arrival in Jackson, many riders were imprisoned at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman on charges of breach of peace.
Today, of the 300 Freedom Riders, 80 are now deceased, according to Anderson.
U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., is the event’s chairman. NAACP President Benjamin Jealous and the civil rights organization’s former chairman, Julian Bond will both serve as National board members.
According to Anderson, Republican Gov. Haley Barbour will serve as the national host.
Barbour and Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant both believe it is important to leverage tourism in the state.
Barbour said Mississippi is in need of low-skilled workers and the hospitality industry that results from tourism could fulfill the state’s need.