Jun 17, 2022 - Politics & Policy

North Carolina judge vacates Freedom Riders' convictions

Civil rights activist Bayard Rustin talks to a reporter during the Harlem Riots in Manhattan on July 23, 1964. Photo: Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A North Carolina judge on Friday posthumously vacated the sentences of civil rights leader Bayard Rustin and three other men who participated in the first of the "freedom rides," according to the AP.

The big picture: The four men — Joe Felmet, Andrew Johnson, Igal Roodenko and Rustin — participated in the first "freedom ride" in 1947, which sought to challenge bus segregation laws.

Driving the news: Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour presided over the special session on Friday in the same courtroom where the four were originally sentenced 75 years earlier, the AP reported.

  • “We failed these men,” Baddour said, according to the AP.
  • “We failed their cause and we failed to deliver justice in our community. And for that, I apologize. So we’re doing this today to right a wrong, in public, and on the record.”

Background: The first "freedom ride" came after the Supreme Court ruled in 1946 that segregation on interstate travel was unconstitutional.

  • Felmet, Johnson, Roodenko and Rustin were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct when the group tried to board a bus in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and refused to move from the front of the bus.
  • The four were convicted and sentenced to serve on a chain gang.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to fix the name of one of the freedom riders. His name is Joe Felmet, not James Felmet.

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