The American School Bus Council and the industry's national associations participated in a Civil Rights Bus Ride ceremony presented by the U.S. Department of Education to commemorate the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The ride started at the nation's Capitol Tuesday and concluded about 100 miles south in Richmond, Va. A school bus took center stage as it left the Department of Education's Lyndon Baines Johnson Building for the Richmond capital building along with six of the original Freedom Riders and 49 high school, college, doctoral and law students from 18 states and D.C. who competed in an academic process. The six original Freedom Riders who participated were Dion Diamond, Reverend Reginald Green, John Moody, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, Charles Person and Hank Thomas.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act was a landmark bill that ended discrimination based on race, creed, color, sex or national orientation. The U.S. Department of Education said the Civil Rights Act ushered in a "whole new era of change" for millions of Americans for whom equality had been elusive for far too long. The law's biggest impact came in promoting equality in voting, public accommodations, education and practically all federally funded programs and activities. An offshoot of the act was the creation in 1966 of the Office for Civil Rights to enforce laws that prohibit discrimination in education. The Department said Wednesday's bus ride served as "a unique event to take the message of equality and justice on the road."
The buses also served as mobile classrooms offering an opportunity for the student leaders to interact with some of the pioneers of America's civil rights movement.
The National School Transportation Association, which had members in attendance, said the celebratory event consisted of a keynote address from Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, director of the U.S. Department of Education Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, followed by the "returning freedom ride." Also representing the industry at the event were Leon Langley, president-elect of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services and the state director of Maryland.
The bus toured D.C., with stops at locations that played a big role in the civil rights movement, including the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial before heading south to Richmond. There, Gov. Terry McAuliffe was joined by Sen. Mark Warner, Rep. Bobby Scott, Assistant Education Sec. Catherine E. Lhamon and Massie Ritsch, assistant education secretary for communications and outreach.
"As we celebrate the gains we as a nation have made in the 50 years that have passed since President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, I hope that all of us — on and off this bus — will recommit ourselves to delivering the full promise of the law to all our nation's students," said Lhamon. "By uniting civil rights luminaries and student leaders, we collectively renew our commitment to advancing this important work."
The three school buses used were loaned by NSTA member Durham School Services. School buses were chosen by the U.S. Department of Education because they symbolize the civil rights movement, as they gave students the transportation needed to allow them to attend integrated schools. Today, school buses continue to serve that purpose for all eligible students, no matter their race, gender or background. Markus Videnieks, ASBC's coordinator, said students with disabilities also constitute an important group that often relies on school buses to get to and from school as well as special services programs.
"The National School Transportation Association is honored and pleased to participate in this event. The yellow school bus, which provides the safest form of transportation available, is vital to ensuring that all children attend school. We are grateful to the Department of Education for their recognition of the important link between school buses and education," said NSTA President Tim Flood in a statement.