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The Journey of Reconciliation

The only weapon we have is our bodies, and we need to tuck them in places so wheels don’t turn.

- Bayard Rustin

Whether it is the busing of African American children to schools outside their neighborhood or the Montgomery bus boycott in 1956, buses have consistently been a flashpoint in the struggle for equality in the United States. In 1947, the two-week Journey of Reconciliation by sixteen people – eight African American and eight white – to see if the Southern states were honoring the federal law against segregated seating on interstate travel led to significant arrests in Chapel Hill. Their methods would inspire the next generation of activists who conducted the Freedom Rides of the 1960’s.  

We Challenged JIM CROW! A Report on the Journey of Reconciliation, April 19–23, 1947

George Houser and Bayard Rustin 

We Challenged JIM CROW: a Report on the Journey of Reconciliation, April 19–23, 1947 

Congress of Racial Equality, 1947 

In 1947, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) partnered with the American Friends Service Committee and Fellowship of Reconciliation to organize the Journey of Reconciliation. This pamphlet, produced by CORE, describes the full scope of their activities designed to see if the legislation prohibiting interstate segregation on buses was working effectively. The pamphlet includes a short description of what happened at each stop, including the especially violent encounter in Chapel Hill, NC.  

Charles Miles Jones Papers, North Carolina Collection 

Letter from Charles Miles Jones to a New York Times journalist Letter from Charles Miles Jones to a New York Times journalist

Letter from Charles Miles Jones to a New York Times journalist, 1947 

Charles Miles Jones was a minister at the Presbyterian Church of Chapel Hill. He hosted the riders and gave them safe harbor during their time in Chapel Hill. After the arrests at the Chapel Hill bus station, Jones bailed the riders out of jail and drove them to Greensboro to continue the Journey of Reconciliation. In this letter, Jones told a New York Times reporter how his family had been terrorized in their home, receiving violent letters and phone calls throughout the time he spent with the protestors in Chapel Hill.  

Charles Miles Jones Papers, Southern Historical Collection 

Photograph of taxi drivers in front of the Trailways bus station, Chapel Hill

Photograph of taxi drivers in front of the Trailways bus station, Chapel Hill, 1940s 

The Trailways bus station, built in 1946 with two separate entrances for Black and white patrons, was located at 311 West Franklin Street (the current site of the Franklin Hotel). The white taxi drivers that normally congregated around the bus station were not pleased to see a coalition of people challenge racial segregation on a bus in their community. As four protestors were being escorted off the bus by police, a white taxi driver struck James Peck, a white rider, in the head.  

Bayard Wootten Collection, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archive

A report on twenty-two days on the chain gang at Roxboro, North Carolina<br /><br />

A report on twenty-two days on the chain gang at Roxboro, NC 

Bayard Rustin, 1949  

One of the more famous riders in the Journey of Reconciliation was Bayard Rustin. Rustin was a Civil Rights icon who was politically affiliated with A. Philip Randolph and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The 1947 “Journey of Reconciliation” is seen as a precursor to the Freedom Rides of the 1960s. When Rustin was convicted for not obeying segregation laws, he had to return to North Carolina to serve out his sentence on a segregated chain gang in Roxboro. Rustin’s accounts of his time on a chain gang shed light on the terrible conditions for Black prisoners and signaled the enormous challenges that lay ahead in the struggle for equal rights.  

Donated by Wiley B. Sanders, North Carolina Collection 

Postcard of Greensboro bus station Postcard of Elizabeth City bus station, N.C. Postcard of Roanoke Rapids Terminal, N.C. Postcard of Winston Salem bus station, N.C.

Postcards of North Carolina bus stations, 1950s 

These postcards depict bus depots in Greensboro, Winston Salem, Elizabeth City, and Roanoke Rapids. The clean and modern designs of these structures project a sense of progress and pride of place yet must be reconciled with the ugly episodes that also took place on these grounds.  

Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards, North Carolina Collection