James Lawson, Then
Born: September 22, 1928, in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Grew up in Massillon, Ohio. Son and grandson of Methodist ministers. Joined CORE [Congress of Racial Equality] in 1948, his freshman year at Baldwin Wallace College in Berea, Ohio. Withdrew his draft registration in 1949, later served 13 months in federal prison. Was a missionary to India 1953–56.
Then: Methodist minister and divinity student in Nashville; in 1959 began a weekly nonviolence workshop, from which emerged the Nashville Student Movement and, in large part, SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee]. Expelled from Vanderbilt University Divinity School in 1960 for his activities as a leader of the Nashville sit-ins.
James Lawson, Now
Since then: Pastor, Centenary Methodist Church, Memphis, 1962–74 helped organize the Meredith March in Mississippi in 1966; head of the Memphis sanitation workers' strike committee in 1968. Pastor of the Holman United Methodist Church, Los Angeles, 1974–99. Named Vanderbilt's Distinguished Alumnus of the Year in 2005; has been a visiting professor at the Divinity School since 2006.
Jean Thompson, Then
Born: January 13, 1942, in Lake Providence, Louisiana. Grew up there and in New Orleans.
Then: Active in New Orleans CORE, along with her sisters, Alice and Shirley. Shirley was arrested at the Trailways station on June 6, 1961.
Jean Thompson, Now
Since then: After bailing out of jail in Jackson, Mississippi, she returned to New Orleans to train Freedom Riders about to go into Jackson. Continued to do sit-ins and picketing for several years. She also did civil rights work elsewhere in the South, including Canton, Mississippi, after Medgar Evers was murdered, and in North Carolina.
Moved to New York City in the mid-'60s, where she worked with local CORE chapters. In the late '60s, she was involved in civil rights, anti-war and feminist efforts in Berkeley and San Francisco.
She has lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, since the early '70s.
Bernard Lafayette Jr., Then
Born: July 29, 1940, in Tampa, Florida. Grew up in Tampa and Philadelphia.
Then: Student at the American Baptist Theological Seminary, in Nashville; a leader of the Nashville Student Movement. Stayed in Jackson after bailing out to recruit new Freedom Riders and organize the Jackson Nonviolent Movement.
Bernard Lafayette Jr., Now
Since then: Worked for the SCLC and helped run numerous campaigns, including Selma, Alabama, in 1961 and 1965, and the Alabama Voter Registration Project in 1962. Served as the national coordinator for the Poor Peoples' Campaign in 1968.
Has taught and been an administrator at several universities and colleges. Currently heads the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies at the University of Rhode Island.
Rev. C.T. Vivian, Then
Born: July 28, 1924, in Howard, Missouri. Grew up there and in Macomb, Illinois. Graduated from Western Illinois University in 1946. Participated in his first sit-in in 1947 in Peoria, Illinois, successfully integrating a cafeteria.
Then: Student at the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville; a leader of the Nashville Student Movement.
Rev. C.T. Vivian, Now
Since then: Joined the executive staff of Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1963, helping to plan campaigns in Birmingham, St. Augustine, Selma and elsewhere. Moved to Chicago in 1966 to run the Urban Training Center for Christian Mission and the Coalition for United Community Action. Later founded the Black Strategies and Information Center, the National Center for Human Rights Education and the Center for Democratic Renewal. Lives in Atlanta.
John Lewis, Then
February 21, 1940, in Troy, Alabama, and grew up there.
Student, American Bible Theological Seminary, Nashville. Member of the Nashville Movement and a leader in the sit-ins there in 1960. One of the original 13 Freedom Riders who left Washington, D.C
., on May 4, 1961.
Congressman John Lewis, Now
Head of SNCC from 1963 to 1966. A keynote speaker at the March on Washington in 1963. One of the leaders of the Selma March in 1965. Served on the Atlanta city council from 1981 to 1987. Has represented Georgia's 5th congressional district, which includes Atlanta and the surrounding area, in the House of Representatives since 1987.
Go backstage at The Oprah Show with Rep. John Lewis
Hank Thomas, Then
Born: August 29, 1941, in Jacksonville, Florida. Grew up primarily in St. Augustine, Florida.
Then: Sophomore, Howard University, Washington, D.C. Very active in student movement. One of the original 13 Freedom Riders who left Washington, D.C., on May 4, 1961, and was on the bus firebombed in Anniston, Alabama, on May 14.
Hank Thomas, Now
Became a field secretary for CORE in 1962, working in Birmingham and Huntsville, Alabama. Inducted into the Army in 1963 and chose to serve as a medic. Did a tour of duty in Vietnam, 1965–66.
Moved to Atlanta after Vietnam and got in the franchise business, starting with a laundromat, followed by a Dairy Queen. Today he and his wife own two McDonald's and four Marriott hotels; they live in Stone Mountain, Georgia.
See Hank's emotional reunion
David Myers and Winonah Beamer, Then
Born: David was born February 29, 1940, in Noblesville, Indiana, and grew up there. Winonah was born September 10, 1941, in Cleveland, and grew up there.
Then: Both students at Central State University, Wilberforce, Ohio.
David Myers and Winonah Beamer, Now
Since then: They married in April 1962. David worked as a photographer for several years, first at Central State, then for newspapers in Xenia, Ohio, and Waterloo, Iowa. [He also] worked for three years as the sports information director at Central State. Then worked until 2002 as a photographer, reporter and editor for WHIO-TV in Dayton, Ohio.
Winonah spent most of her career working with profoundly retarded adolescents and adults at a number of institutions in Ohio, including 22 years with the Montgomery County Board of Mental Retardation.
They now live in Ellenton, Florida. Winonah works part time as a toll taker on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which crosses Tampa Bay. David works part time for the county's Mediterranean fruit fly containment program.
Ed Kale, Then
Born: January 16, 1937, in Des Moines, Iowa. Grew up in primarily in Grangeville, Idaho.
Then: Student, Yale Divinity School. Had done his undergraduate work at the University of Idaho, in Moscow, and Denver University.
Ed Kale, Now
Since then: Taught at the American colleges in Instanbul, Turkey, and Athens, Greece, for three years, then finished at Yale Divinity in 1965. Briefly led a church in Connecticut, then left to study at Durham University, in England, in 1966. Very active in the United States and England in the anti-war movement.
Served as the chaplain at Liverpool University in England and then at Mainz University in Germany. Returned to the United States in 1978 and taught at the University of Idaho. Served as the campus minister and taught at the University of Texas, Arlington, and the University of Minnesota, Duluth. Active in the anti-apartheid movement, in support of human rights in Central America, and against Star Wars.
Since 2004, has lived in La Pointe, Wisconsin, on Madeline Island in Lake Superior, where he runs a kayak rental business.
Carol Silver, Then
Born: October 1, 1938, in Boston, Massachusetts, and grew up there and in Revere and Worcester.
Then: Living in New York and working at the United Nations. Graduated from the University of Chicago in 1960.
Carol Silver, Now
Since then: Attended law school at the University of Chicago. Organized a chapter of the Law Students Civil Rights Research Council, which supported civil rights lawyers working in the South with summer interns and research. After graduating law school in 1964, interned for a year with Floyd McKissick, a prominent black attorney in North Carolina.
From 1965 to 1970, worked in federal programs in various cities in California providing legal services for the poor, returning each summer to Mississippi and Louisiana to work with the Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee.
Elected to three terms on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, serving from 1977 to 1989. Since then she has practiced law in San Francisco. In 2002, started the Afghan Friends Network to aid in Afghan redevelopment.
Bob Filner, Then
Born: September 4, 1942, in Pittsburgh. Grew up there and in Queens, New York. His father was a businessman who raised money for Martin Luther King Jr. beginning in the '50s. In 1957, organized a group of fellow high school students to attend a civil rights march in Washington, D.C.
Then: Sophomore at Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York.
Congressman Bob Filner, Now
Since then: Graduated Cornell in 1963 and got a PhD there in 1969 in the history of science. Taught history at San Diego State University from 1970 until 1992, when he won election to the House of Representatives. He continues to represent what is now the state's 51st district, which includes the southern half of San Diego and area to the east.
Mimi Real, Then
Born: May 31, 1941, in Brooklyn, and grew up there. In high school, organized a busload of fellow students to attend a march in support of school integration, in Washington, D.C., in the wake of Brown vs. Board of Education.
Then: Sophomore, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. Active politically, picketing local businesses in support of the student sit-ins in the South in 1960. Volunteered briefly at CORE headquarters in New York in the summer of 1961 before traveling to Mississippi.
Mimi Real, Now
Since then: After graduating in 1963, worked with CORE in Louisiana on voter registration for over a year. Got a master's degree in American history at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison, over the next two years, returning to the south in the summers to interview civil rights workers and collect documents. Today, the Wisconsin State Historical Society has an extensive archive from the civil rights era.
Moved to San Francisco in 1967 and soon became an oral historian, working 10 years for the Berkeley Oral History Project, then running her own business, creating oral histories for companies. Today, she lives in Marin and works as an administrator in a private school.
Gordon Harris, Then
Born: February 24, 1938, in Charleston, South Carolina. Grew up in Rochester, New York. A member of a NAACP youth group in junior high and high school.
Then: Student at the University of Rochester, where he had helped start a CORE chapter. Also a conscientious objector.
Gordon Harris, Now
Since then: Came back to the South in 1962, doing voter registration work in several places, including Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Clarksdale, Mississippi. Arrested during a march in Gadsen, Alabama, and spent a month in jail there. Graduated from Wilmington College, in Wilmington, Ohio, in 1967, then worked in Cleveland as an investigator for the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, then for the American Friends Service Committee.
Graduated Earlham School of Religion, a Quaker seminary in Richmond, Indiana, in 1974. Led a church in Central City, Nebraska, for four years. Later moved to Winthrop, Maine, and had a church there. Now lives in Lewiston, Maine, where has been involved in efforts to support the African emigrant community there. He has a therapy dog, a dachshund named Scotty, whom he takes to retirement homes to visit with the residents once a week.
Bill Svanoe, Then
Born: January 16, 1938, in Wilmington, Delaware. Grew up in Warren, Pennsylvania, Northhampton, Massachusetts, and New York City.
Then: Graduate student in economics at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis. Graduated from Oberlin College in 1959. Active in the 1960 Hubert Humphrey and John Kennedy campaigns.
Bill Svanoe, Now
Since then: Formed the Rooftop Singers and recorded "Walk Right In," a number one hit in 1963. Recorded and toured until 1968, when the group disbanded. Began writing plays and screenplays, living in Los Angeles for most of the '70s, and Vail, Colorado, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, during the '80s. Since 2001, has also taught screenwriting and playwriting at the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill.
Russell and Mary Jorgensen, Then
Born: Mary was born July 12, 1916, on a farm outside Bippus, Indiana, and grew up there. Graduated from Manchester College, in North Manchester, Indiana.
Russell was born June 13, 1917, in Racine, Wisconsin, and grew up there. Graduated from the University of Wisconsin, in Madison. Was granted conscientious objector status for the draft during WWII.
Russell and Mary met at a hostel in Massachusetts in 1939. They soon married and moved to the west coast, eventually settling in Berkeley in 1942. Both studied at the Pacific School of Religion, in Berkeley, California. In 1949, Russell spent a summer working with youth in postwar Japan.
Then: Russell was a fundraiser for the American Friends Service Committee. They were both members of Fellowship of Reconciliation and active in Berkeley CORE, protesting discrimination in stores and housing.
Russell and Mary Jorgensen, Now
Russell continued to fundraise for the AFSC, which he did until the mid-'70s. He also served on the board of the Pacifica Radio Foundation, and was president of the foundation for a year in 1963. In the mid-'60s, Russell and Mary spent two years in Tanzania, supervising the VISA volunteers in the country.
In 1972, they moved north to help create an intentional community named Monan's Rill, just outside Santa Rosa. They have lived in Nevada City, California, since 2001.
More on the Freedom Riders
Lessons from the Rides
Oprah honors these American heroes
Historian Raymond Arsenault gives an in-depth look at the Rides