Bettye Rice Hughes
From Reporting Civil Rights: American Journalism 1941–1963
In May 1961 the first group of Freedom Riders left Washington and traveled through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. After they left Atlanta on May 14, one of the two buses they boarded was attacked by a mob and firebombed outside Anniston, Alabama; the other bus was attached by Klansmen when they arrived at their destination in Birmingham. During the summer, more than one thousand people participated in various Freedom Rides, which were designed to test local compliance (or lack thereof) with the 1960 Supreme Court decision Boynton v. Virginia, prohibiting segregation in terminal facilities serving any bus that crossed state lines. Over three hundred riders were arrested in Jackson, Mississippi, alone; most received sixty-day sentences on state prison farms. In September, the Interstate Commerce Commission issued rules prohibiting interstate carriers from using segregated bus terminals and mandating that all interstate buses display a certificate reading: “Seating aboard this vehicle is without regard to race, color, creed, or national origin, by order of the Interstate Commerce Commission.”
Fifty years ago this winter, in the wake of this turmoil, a young woman living in Los Angeles decided to take a tour of the South, experience the situation for herself, and find out if, traveling alone, she “would receive a different reception.” The resulting article, “A Negro Tourist in Dixie,” appeared in The Reporter, a national weekly founded in 1949 by Max Ascoli, an exile from Mussolini’s Italy. Not much information is readily available about the author, Bettye Rice Hughes. The April 25, 1957, issue of The California Eagle contains a photograph of her; the caption notes that she was an “NAACP membership worker,” and she is shown presenting a life membership certificate to famed jazz musician Earl Bostic and his wife. A brief biographical note in the issue of The Reporter containing her article simply states, “Miss Hughes is at present [in 1962] working with the Committee for Representative Government in Los Angeles.” Yet other than a few such details placing her in the Los Angeles area during this five-year period, little about her has turned up in the decade since her story was reprinted in the Library of America collection Reporting Civil Rights: American Journalism 1941–1963.
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It was mostly curiosity that caused me to set out from Los Angeles on a tour of the South by bus last November, just twelve days after the Interstate Commerce Commission’s order went into effect forbidding separation by races in interstate busses and terminals. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!