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Carson: So why don't we start with your name, and where you're from, ...
Blakenheim: I'm Ed Blankenheim and, I joined the Freedom Ride from Tucson Arizona where I was going to school.
I answered the call of Jim Farmer who joined the Freedom Rides on, Mother's Day of 1961. We had a very successful trip to the South until we got to Alabama. As a matter of fact, one of the [white] men who boarded the bus said, "Y'all ain't in Georgia now, y'all in Alabama." And with that, he eventually set the bus on fire which was not a good place to be at the time. They held the door shut for maybe ten minutes, they held the door shut.
Carson: This was outside of Anniston?
Blakenheim: Outside of Anniston, Alabama, yeah. I guess I rush things a lot. The mob surrounded the bus. The cops would not let the mob get on the bus. [pause] So they threw an incendiary device aboard, ...
Carson: What, could you describe what it was like for you at this ... ?
Blakenheim: Well, it was a mob surrounding the bus. They were mighty angry people. Really, really vicious. They, as I said, they did surround the bus. They threw a fire bomb aboard and held the door closed. You could hear cries of, "Get [inaudible] those niggers alive. We finally, one of the tanks blew up. One of the gas tanks blew up and Hank Thomas, who was one of the Freedom Riders, took advantage of it and was able to force open the bus door, thereby we got off. When we did get off, , we had to run through the, ... these racists who beat us all like hell. Tortunately, well it didn't sound fortunate, the second fuel tank on the bus exploded, scared the hell out of the mob so they uh went on the other side of the highway and the object was to leave us there where we would be blown up. At the very last moment, an ambulance came and took us to the hospital in Anniston Alabama. There the mob surrounded the bus. They gave the hospital administrators one hour, to let us, to get us out into the parking lot to the mob.
Carson: What kind of injuries did you have?
Blakenheim: Oh, Genevieve Hughes and I were the first ones hospitalized because we had pretty weak lungs. We found out all of us couldn't be hospitalized because they don't take blacks in Alabama into the hospital. We refused to go to our rooms and went down to the emergency room with the rest of the Freedom Riders. ... Anyway, Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth of Birmingham had heard about our plight and he sent 15 or 20 cars down to the parking lot to get us out. As they come in at about 50 miles per hour, screech to a halt, and one or two Freedom Riders would get out and we sped away from there.
After that, we were hidden in houses in Birmingham until the next day where we again assembled outside of Reverend Shuttlesworth's house and we made our way to the bus station. After several hours ... we could not get out of there because not a bus driver would drive the bus. So we went to the airport so we could fly to Montgomery, which was our next stop. Well they they cut us off there too, and threatened to blow up the plane if we get on. Finally, [Attorney General] Robert Kennedy was frightened enough so that he sent down a man — I can't remember his name — and some Federal Marshals. They searched the United Airlines plane and determined there were no explosives aboard. The assistant attorney general had to get on. One of the conditions was that the attorney general had to fly out with us and prove that there was no bomb on the plane. That is exactly what happened, and that pretty much sums up my, ...
Carson: So you went to Montgomery after that?
Blakenheim: No, we couldn't get to Montgomery. By that time it was too late to get to Montgomery. We tried to get to New Orleans and as a matter of fact we did. They flew us to New Orleans where we had a huge rally and everyone pretty much thought that the Freedom Rides were over.
Well they hadn't counted on the spirit of CORE and SNCC at that time. People from the Southern colleges, and Jim Farmer, our national director just went and filled the jails in Jackson Mississippi and by doing that we were able to break the back of Mississippi. They finally, after a [inaudible] battle, they finally gave in and the segregation of the bus stations in the south were integrated.
Carson: What impact did this have on your life after this?
Blakenheim: Well, it made me a life time fighter for civil rights. I worked for a while in the south testing the bus stations to make certain that they were following the law. And then I went and worked in Chicago for, just about 10 years.
Finally I was burned out and I moved my family to Hawaii. But even there we weren't safe from demonstrations. As it turns out, there is a colony of lepers on Molokai. People who have victims, were victims of leprosy do not want to be called lepers. They insist on Hanson's disease. Well, we got involved there to the state tried to throw them out there in 22 acres. I the center of Honolulu and [inaudible] when they were told that they had to go back to Molokai, they said "No", they wouldn't, they had read [inaudible] literature and had read Martin Luther King's, literature and they somehow got the courage to say "No", they wouldn't go.
What resulted was they were thrown in jail and they had a lot of nine year fights through the courts and just about three years ago I think they won the battle and the state turned the land over to where I think 50 I think 50 duplex condominiums on the land. It was a quite sweet, sweet victory and as of late especially uh now that I'm handicaped. If I go to demonstrations and the rest of the couple of times the handicap people can't get on the greyhound busses and by golly we turned them around too. Well that's about my life in a nutshell.
Carson: Looking back, what lead you to join the first freedom ride?
Blakenheim: I just started, I blame probably just that I'd joined the Marine Corps when I was 16 and we were told that the armed forces at that time were integrated. It is true, they were integrated, but that didn't carry over into the civilian population. A very good friend of mine and I wanted to leave the base in [inaudible] North Carolina and go into town for a few beers. When we got to the main gate, the driver of the bus pulled over to the bus turnaround area and said, "Okay, all you niggers get to the back of the bus." I couldn't believe it, and neither could my friend. He was mortified.
No way I ... the driver came up and put his finger right in his chest and said "I'm talking to you nigger, get in the back of the bus." I was livid, I don't know what I woulda done. The bus driver put his hand out the window and on board the bus came two MP's, one black and one white. They said that they had a card that said United States Marine Corps, guests of the state of North Carolina and we will honor their customs. And I went ballistic and there was nothing we could do. And that stayed with me for 5 years, 10 years. About 7 years I guess, when I heard about the freedom rides and it was a chance to do something when I, when we couldn't do anything 7 years earlier so I jumped at the chance when it carne.
Copyright © Ed Blankenheim. 2002