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Freedom Rider recounts his struggle for justice during the Civil Rights Movement

Charles Person, now 80 years old, is the youngest of 13 original Freedom Riders. He says that when you are working toward effecting positive change, you should “never, ever give up.”

He knows what he’s talking about. Person never gives up. As a young man, when he was not allowed to attend Georgia Tech because of the university’s racist practices, he heeded his grandfather’s words and did something about it. Although he was accepted at MIT, he enrolled at Morehouse College. Decades later, in 2023, after a bout with COVID-19 required him to stay in a hospital intensive care unit, he came through and came home.

He then welcomed the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Learning for Justice (LFJ) program into his Atlanta home to learn about his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement as one of 13 Freedom Riders who boarded interstate buses in 1961, determined to test a Supreme Court ruling that ended segregation in bus terminals and restaurants.

Seated in a wheelchair and sometimes wearing an oxygen tube, Person recounted many of his experiences and offered suggestions on ways to address contemporary racial and social justice issues.

The video below includes part of that conversation from a man who continues to do good work to enact positive change in our nation. This is the first in a series of video interviews that LFJ is conducting with veterans of the Civil Rights Movement.

In the video: Charles Person, now 80, talks openly about how in 1961, as an 18-year-old freshman at Morehouse College, he became the youngest of 13 to take part in the first Freedom Ride.

Crystal L. Keels, Ph.D., is an editor for the SPLC’s Learning for Justice program.

Photo at top: Charles Person was the youngest participant in the first Freedom Ride of 1961, a key moment of the Civil Rights Movement. (Credit: LFJ)