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'Freedom riders' honored, re-enact historic bus trip

Wednesday - 7/2/2014, 2:17pm  ET

Freedom Rider buses (WTOP/John Aaron)
Chartered school buses lined up in the District before heading south to Richmond as part of a re-enactment of the "freedom rides" recognizing the 50th anniversary of the bus rides against segregation. (WTOP/John Aaron)

WASHINGTON - On the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act, some civil rights pioneers are being honored for what they did to bring the law about.

At the Department of Education in Southwest Washington, "freedom riders" gathered with other activists to re-enact one of their famous bus trips. The groups challenged rules about where black people could sit on buses by riding buses into the South, enduring brutal beatings at some stops.

"At that time I would go anywhere, anytime to fight the Klan, or injustice anywhere," said Charles Person, one of the original freedom riders.

"Blacks were required by state law, whenever they rode public transportation, to... move to the rear of wherever white people were sitting," said fellow freedom rider Hank Thomas.

"It's surreal," said American University student Tatehona Kelly, who departed from D.C. for Richmond on one of the buses as part of the re-enactment. "It's an inspiring moment... I'm taking it all in."

The riders are being met in Richmond by a group that includes Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner.

At a ceremony before the buses departed, a proclamation from President Obama was read by Zacharia Ugohno, a rising senior at Largo High School. In it, the President said the Civil Rights Act "transformed our understanding of justice, equality and democracy and advanced our long journey toward a more perfect union."

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