It was a feel-good day in Nashville, Tennessee Friday. The Tennessee Board of Regents voted unanimously to award honorary degrees to fourteen people who had been expelled from Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State College (now Tennessee State University) in 1961 after participating in the Freedom Rides. The students were expelled after being convicted on breach of peace charges in Jackson, Mississippi.
The Supreme Court ruled in Boynton v. Virginia that segregation in public transportation was illegal, a violation of the Interstate Commerce Act. The Freedom Rides went down into the deep South to test the limits of the ruling. The riders ran straight into Jim Crow and mob violence.
The Board of Regents decision reverses a March 28 vote. Then the board voted 7-5 against awarding the degrees, a vote that drew much public criticism. Board members claimed that the earlier vote was more procedural than substantive -- rarely are so many honorary degrees awarded at one time at one school. There was also the issue of what kind of degree to award; they settled on Doctor of Humane Letters degrees.
The PBS American Experience website has a concise, but informative section on the Freedom Rides from their Eyes on the Prize program. The Nashville Tennessean has a Freedom Rides photo gallery.