On April 9, 1947, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) sends 16 Black and white activists on a bus ride through the American South to test a recent Supreme Court decision striking down segregation on interstate bus travel. The so-called Journey of Reconciliation, which lasted two weeks, was an important precursor to the Freedom Rides of the 1960s.
In Morgan v. Virginia (1946), the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to enforce segregated seating on interstate buses. Shortly after, activist and WWII veteran Wilson A. Head put the ruling to a test and rode a Greyhound bus from Atlanta to Washington, D.C. relatively unscathed. After the success of his trip, CORE treasurer Bayard Rustin saw an opportunity to hold a larger, more confrontational demonstration to raise awareness of the ruling and challenge Jim Crow laws.
CORE and the Fellowship of Reconciliation sent 16 men, eight Black and eight white, on buses from Washington, D.C. with stops planned in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky. The goal of the trip was to test the enforcement of the Morgan decision and develop conflict resolution techniques should riders encounter violence or harassment on public transportation.
The group tried 26 different seating arrangements on various buses throughout their journey; members were arrested during six of those attempts. On the last leg of the trip in North Carolina before heading back to D.C., several riders, including Rustin, were arrested after being attacked by an angry mob. Rustin went on to become one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s closest advisors and helped organize the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.