Peter Johnson was waiting to board the bus with the others. He looked around for his girlfriend, Sammie Jergens. He found her talking to one of the other women that was here for the ride. Peter pulled at his tie. He thought that it was hot out today but he felt that he should be use to this because he grew up in Montgomery, Alabama. He thought that it might be nervous because he knew what was waiting for them in the south.
He had first heard about this from his friend Thomas Park, who was a student at Shaw University and he was a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or better known as SNCC. Thomas was always fighting for what was right. He was one of the leaders in the sit-in at State Capital. He had thought it was a good idea and told his friend that when he reached Montgomery that he could get a warm meal and a good friend. Thomas took the offer. Peter couldn’t wait to see him again.
It happen so fast that he came to be here.
“Ma,” Peter found his mother in the kitchen, putting the dinner dishes away. Sarah Johnson smiled at her oldest son. Her hair was pulled back away from her face. Peter thought his mother was a good-looking woman for her age.
“Yes, Peter,” She put a dish away.
Peter looked around the room to see if his father or siblings were around but they weren’t. “Do you remember my friend, Thomas Park?” He asked.
“He was a nice young man. Is he in North Carolina?” She put a glass away.
“Yes, he is coming to Montgomery sometime next in the next couple of weeks and I was wondering if he could have dinner here that night.”
“I don’t see that as a problem,” His mother said. She turned away from him. Peter turned to leave the room to go to his room, when he saw his father standing in the doorway.
His father was holding today’s newspaper in one hand and his glasses in the other. He was getting white at the temple and always stood tall. There was a strength in his father that Peter admired.
“Is your friend doing that freedom ride?” His father asked.
“Yeah,” Peter said. He wonder where his father was going with this and how did he hear about this. “How did you know?”
“I have a friend in Core and he told me,” His father looked at him with intelligent eyes. “Why don’t you join him?” His father has been a part of the moment for better rights for the minority in this country. Both of his parents helped out with the bus boycott in this city by driving people around in their one car.
Peter didn’t know what to say to his father about joining Thomas on this ride. He had joined Thomas at the sit-ins at the State Capital. He remembered sitting there hungry, waiting to be served. He remembered going home to find a plate of food waiting for him. It is not that he doesn’t believe in what he was fighting for. He believes in the rights for blacks and he wanted to do his part in it. The worst that happened to him was he was expelled from and he couldn’t go back.
Since then he had been working odd jobs around the city to help his parents. At the moment he didn’t have a job and there was no reason for him not to go. He looked at his father to say why couldn’t go. “Because…” It was all he could get out. He looked away from his father to his mother, who looked like she wasn’t listening but Peter knew that she was. She might not be saying anything but Peter knew what she was thinking. She wanted him to go too. Sometimes he didn’t understand his parents. He looked between his parents and he knew that he was going. They would be happy with whatever he chose to do. He had this thing that he liked to have his parents proud of him. Lately they seem disappointed in him. He wanted them to be proud of him again. “I’ll call him to see if I can join him,” They seem to like that. He would only have to tell his girlfriend.
He had dropped her off in front of her door. He still hadn’t told her that he was leaving. She was about to open the door when he spoke. “I’m leaving for Washington soon.” It was all Peter could say.
“For what?” She asked.
Peter sighed. “I’m meeting Thomas Park there and we are going to a freedom ride,” Peter saw that she was thinking.
“I want to go with,” She said. In the back of Peter’s heart he knew that she was going to say that.
“No, it could be dangerous and I want nothing to happen to you,” Peter took her hands in his. “I love you, Sammie.” Peter looked right in her green eyes.
Sammie was light enough to past as white if she wanted too. Both her parents had died; her mother had gotten sick and her father died in the war. Her white family had wanted nothing to do with her, so her black grandmother took her in. She had grown up here in Montgomery with him. Sammie always thought of herself as black. She was smart and Peter loved that about her. When she said that she would go out with him was one of his happiest day in his life.
“I love you, too, Peter,” Sammie said. “But I want to go with you.”
“What about your grandmother?” Peter asked.
Sammie smiled. “She is fine without me for a few weeks,” Peter tried to think of a way out of her going but he couldn’t think of anything. He looked up her and she knew that she had won.
They had taken a bus to Washington DC where they met with Peter’s friend, Thomas. He was happy that they decided to come with him. He introduced them to the leaders of the ride. They were glad to have them. They told them what their plans were and how it was going to work.
Peter now stood in front of the buses they were going to take. Sammie came over with a smile on her face. She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “We’re on bus two,” She said. Peter could only not his head.
Peter looked at his watch to see that it was about time to leave. Sammie grabbed his hand before getting on the bus. He looked out the window to see who else was getting on the bus. The bus driver closed the door and pulled out of the terminal, Peter took a big deep breath as the bus left the city and headed for Richmond, Virginia.
About two hours later, the bus stopped at a bus terminal in Richmond, VA. Peter got off the bus with Sammie. Peter had to go to the bathroom and he went with the other men to the bathroom that said ‘White Men Only.’ He notice that it was better looking than any other bathroom he had been in. There were two other men in there, they gave them looks before leaving. Peter was glad that they didn’t do anything. He washed his hands before leaving the bathroom. He took a drink at the water fountain that was for whites only. He saw Sammie was talking to a white young woman from another bus that was here. He decide to get back on the bus to wait for her there.
He watched Sammie get back on the bus and came to sit next to him. Peter grabbed her hand and squeezed. She turned to look at him with a smile. That smile always brightened his day. “How was your trip to the bathroom?” She asked him.
“It was fine. There were two white men in there but they just left when we entered. I surprised when they didn’t say anything to us.” Peter said.
Sammie smiled. “They just know that they are in the wrong,” She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. Peter nodded. She turned to see who else was on the bus. “I didn’t have a problem either.” Peter knew that smile on her face.
“Of course you didn’t,” He smiled back at her. He leaned back and closed his eyes. Maybe this won’t be so bad. He felt Sammie placed her head on his shoulder. He moved this so he could pull her closer to him.
He heard her mumbled. “I love you,” He loved when she said that to him. It always lifted his heart. He said it to her before the bus pulled out of the terminal.
It was the same as they headed south. Until they hit Charlotte were they heard that Joseph Perkins was arrested. Peter could believe it because they were heading farther south. There were more arrests in Winnsboro, South Carolina. John Lewis was attacked in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Peter was starting to get nervous because he didn’t know what was waiting for him as they got closer to their goal. He knew that they were going to go through his home town but how was he going to come home broken or the same as he was now. Was his mother going to have to mend him again after so many times before? Would his father be proud of him? Peter didn’t know what the future was going to hold for him. He may die tomorrow but he knew that he had Sammie on his side.
They had crossed the state line from Georgia to Alabama and Peter had a feeling of coming home even when he didn’t know what was going to happen to them while they were here. As they drove into the state, Peter had a feeling something was going to happen but he didn’t know what. Every stop they took nothing happened. Something big was going to happen. Peter had heard there was a warning from his old pastor Martin Luther King Jr., that there were mobs waiting for them in Alabama. Peter didn’t know if he should have took a flight to New Orleans or not.
The bus pulled into Anniston, Alabama.
Peter could see the burned out bus that was on the side of the road. He had a bad feeling about what was going to happen. He wonder what happen to the other riders, were they died or alive. Peter’s friend Thomas was on the bus. He had to find out what happen to his friend.
Sammie got up, getting ready to leave the bus when the door opened and eight white men in what looked like their Sunday best came on the bus. They had pipes, chains, and clubs. Peter even thought that he saw a knife in there. He reached over and pulled Sammie down on her seat. One of the men saw what Peter had done. He said something to his friend, who was next to him. Peter didn’t know what was said but he was nervous as to what was going to happen to them.
The man came down the aisle towards Peter and Sammie. He stopped right in front of them. He motioned with the pipe in his hand for them to move. Sammie and Peter both knew they had to get up or it would be worse for them. They made their way to the back of the bus where they met the other freedom riders.
Peter looked at the other to see how they were taking this. There was a scared look on their faces and some faces were ready to fight for their lives if it needed to be. Peter closed his eyes and prayed to God to be with them. He hasn’t done this in a while but it felt good to talk to God again.
As he finished his prayer, the beating started, He felt every hit that came his way. He tried to open one eyes to see where Sammie was but he couldn’t. He hoped that she was alright because he didn’t know what he would do without her. He felt that if he could he would start to cry but nothing was coming. After a while he couldn’t feel anymore. He didn’t know when the beating stopped but he heard someone.
“That should be good until they get to Birmingham,” The voice reminded him of a person back at home, whom he got into many fights with.
He heard footsteps until they were almost gone. He heard the men get off the bus. He tried to open one eye but he saw a man standing in front of the bus, talking to the bus driver. The driver was nodding. The man turned to look at Peter and the others before smiling and getting off the bus. The door to the bus closed and the bus pulled out of the terminal.
Peter could hear moans coming from the other freedom the other freedom riders. He tried to move but when he did his head started to spin so he stopped moving.
No one moved for an half an hour. Everyone got up and found the closest seat that they could. Peter found a seat next to a white man. He looked around for Sammie and saw that she was sitting in the seat in front of him. All he could see were the cuts on her arms from the pipes that had hit her. She hadn’t turned around to see if he was behind her. He reached out for her and touched her shoulder. She shuttered before she looked behind her. She saw that it was him. He saw the tears that had rolled down her face.
He felt the anger in him swell, he wanted to hurt the men that did this to her. He didn’t know how many times he felt this way and knew there was nothing he could do. It would be him that got in trouble not the men who did this to her. He hated this and he knew than that this is more than where they could sit or what lunch counter. After this ride he had to do something more and he had to find out what he could do.
“Are you…” He couldn’t finished because he that she wasn’t okay.
He sighed and leaned back against his seat. He closed his eyes. He didn’t know what he could do to take that hurt out of her eyes. He wanted to do so much but it wouldn’t work for her. He looked at the man sitting next to him to see that he was bleeding from the head. Peter wanted to point it out to him be he didn’t know if he could lifted his arm to point it out to him. He wonder if the guy next to him hated him for what happen to him.
The guy turned around and smiled at him. It was like he read his mind. “I don’t hate you for what happen. I knew what could happen when we got to this part of the country. I thought it could happen sooner than it did.” Peter nodded. “John Alexander,” He held out his that was cut and a bruise was forming on.
“Peter Johnson,” Peter shook his hand. They smiled at each other. They didn’t know then but they were going to be great friends.
They spend the rest of the time talking. In the back of Peter’s mind, he knew something was going to happen in Birmingham but he didn’t know if he should tell his new friend about what could happen to them. He didn’t have to because John did it.
“Did you hear what the guy said before they left?” He asked. Peter nodded. John looked around the bus. “Do you think anyone else knows?”
“I don’t know,” Peter followed John’s eyes with his own.
“Do you think we should tell them?” John asked. “I feel that we should be ready for what is coming.” Peter agreed with him. They started to tell people on the bus.
Birmingham was on top of them before they knew it. They pulled in and saw the mob that was waiting for them. They got off the bus together. Peter was holding onto Sammie’s hand so nothing would happen to her. Immediately they were in the mob getting beaten by pipes, chains, and baseball bats. They were yelling at them, they were using words that Peter never liked. He wasn’t an animal, he was a man but only with a different color. Peter covered Sammie so she wouldn’t get too messed up. He took everything that was coming his way. He felt that he had a bloody back and maybe they broke a bone or two.
He made the mistake of looking up and saw that his new friend John was getting beaten more than he was. He wanted to help him but he also wanted to protect Sammie from the beatings.
He couldn’t remember when the beating stopped. They were taken to a hospital where they were treated. Sammie wasn’t bad he was worse than her. He didn’t know what happened to him on the bus and what he took from coming off the bus.
He slept on and off for the next couple of days. He saw that his parents and Sammie were by his side. He was glad that they were there for him. While he was in the hospital he got closer to his dad. They came to an understanding.
In the weeks that followed Peter heard that more and more people were doing the freedom rides. He was glad to be part of it and was partly glad that he wasn’t there because he decide to apply at Shaw University. He was going to finish his education and help with the movement. He heard about his friend Thomas that he continued the rides and was arrested in Jackson, Mississippi. That he was in Mississippi State Penitentiary. Him and his friend became closer through letters and meeting each other. The rides brought Peter and Sammie closer.
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