BIRMINGHAM (WWJ) – It’s been 50 years since the Freedom Rides in Mississippi…which challenged the segregation law on buses. Richard Gleason was a 24-year-old minister in Chicago when he saw the racial injustices in the south and felt he had to go. He was a freedom rider….taking the bus from Montgomery to Jackson, Mississippi.
The 74-year-old Gleason, who now lives in metro Detroit, was on hand at the First United Methodist Church in Birmingham on Sunday and spoke with WWJ’s Beth Fisher to recount the history making experience.
“We didn’t know if we would come back alive or not . I remember , probably the most memorable point was most of us wore neckties, most of the fellas wore neckties &, and just before we got on the ride , the leaders took the back of our neck, the necktie part on the back of the neck and, and cut it so that if Klansmen would grab us by the necktie, it would come off, it would just tear off real easy. At that point, I knew things were getting pretty serious.”
“I was in solitary confinement, stripped naked and they put a big bully in my cell, I didn’t say anything and he was calling me a ‘Yankee’ and all kinds of other things and he was doing all he could to intimidate me,” said Gleason.
Gleason marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in the South and in Chicago and he recently returned to Mississippi for a reunion and appeared on Oprah…heartened by the progress but said, “There’s a bridge that needs to be built between the divide.”