Skip to main content

The 1947 Journey of Reconciliation: A Long Road to Justice | Friday, May 20 (2 – 4 pm)

In-Person at the Hillsborough Courthouse (Mural Courtroom)

Listen to a conversation with James Williams & Aaron Keck about this event here!

On April 9, 1947, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) sent 16 brave civil rights activists, 8 Black and 8 white, to ride together on buses through the American South. Why was this a dangerous and revolutionary action? With the South still in the clenches of Jim Crow laws and etiquette, CORE’s mission was to test a recent Supreme Court decision, Morgan v. Virginia (1946), which had actually struck down segregation on interstate bus travel. This so-called “Journey of Reconciliation” in 1947, a critical precursor to the more known Freedom Rides of the 1960s, lasted two weeks. Throughout that time, riders tried 26 different seating arrangements on various buses across Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Riders were arrested during six of those attempts.

On April 13, 1947, on the last leg of the trip departing from Chapel Hill, NC to Greensboro, NC, four riders (including CORE treasurer Bayard Rustin) were arrested after being attacked by an angry mob. They were tried, convicted, and sentenced to serve 30 days on a chain gang. With their appeal to the Supreme Court denied, three of the Riders surrendered at the Hillsborough Courthouse in March of 1949 to serve their sentence on segregated chain gangs in Roxboro, NC.

Join the 18 Judicial District of NC, Carolina K-12 at Carolina Public Humanities, Orange County Community Remembrance Coalition, & the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough on Fri. May 20th (2 pm) at the historic Hillsborough Courthouse, 75 years after the “First Freedom Ride,” as we commemorate the 75 year anniversary of this legal travesty. This FREE, dynamic event will include:

  • A keynote address by author & professor Gene Nichol (UNC-CH School of Law): “The Journey: Courage, Hate and the Unending Struggle for the Promise of America”
  • Attorney James Williams will discuss the role of Black lawyers in challenging Jim Crow in transportation
  • Poet, artist and performer CJ Suitt will provide an artistic interpretation of of the courthouse proceedings
  • Vocalist & educator Mary D. Williams will perform Freedom Songs from the Long Civil Rights Movement

This is event is FREE and open to the public. Registration is not required, but is requested to help us prepare for attendance numbers.

CLICK HERE FOR IN-PERSON REGISTRATION (Requested, but not required)

For the location of the Orange County Courthouse in Hillsborough, directions/map, & parking information, click here. (Please note that downtown Hillsborough can be busy on Friday afternoons, so plan your arrival and parking options accordingly. Additional parking is available throughout downtown Hillsborough; click here for details.)

Funding for this event is provided by Humanities for the Public Good, an initiative at UNC-CH’s College of Arts & Sciences.


Additional Events (Live & Virtual) Taking Place

Keeping Your Seat to Take a Stand: Sarah Keys Evans & the Fight Against Jim Crow Transportation | Thursday, May 12, 5:30 – 7:00 pm | Virtual via Zoom

On Aug. 1, 1952, six years after the landmark Morgan v. Virginia case in 1946, five years after the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation set out to test its decision, and three years before the better known Montgomery Bus Boycott, 22-year-old Washington, NC native Sarah Keys, a Women’s Army Corps private, was wrongfully arrested in Roanoke Rapids, NC for refusing to relinquish her seat to a white man on an interstate charter bus. Yet, Sarah Keys refused to be intimidated, both that night and throughout the years to come. She saw her case through as it was brought before the Interstate Commerce Commission, with another trailblazer, Dovey Johnson Roundtree, as her lawyer. Finally, in 1955, in the landmark case Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company, the ICC favored Mrs. Keys Evans, ruling that the Interstate Commerce Act forbids segregation. Join Carolina K-12, the North Caroliniana Society, and the Sarah Keys Evans Inclusive Public Art Project to explore the courageous actions of Mrs. Sarah Keys Evans with top scholars & community historians. K-12 teachers who attend can choose a book to be mailed to them after the event! Details and registration are at https://humanities.unc.edu/sarahkeys/

Screening of “You Don’t Have to Ride Jim Crow” | Date TBD 

Details coming soon!

See also the Chapel Hill Community History website for event details and related resources.

Visit Chapel Hill’s Bus Shelter in Commemoration of the Journey

Art + Transit aims to bring more artistic vibrancy to the daily commute and enliven unsuspecting spaces throughout Chapel Hill. As such, since 2018, Art + Transit has been commissioning Triangle-based artists to create art for many bus shelters around Chapel Hill and Carrboro. As part of this initiative, Art + Transit will be commemorating the Journey of Reconciliation at the bus shelter at the Rosemary Street & Columbia Street parking lot. The installation will be completed the week of April 11. 

Teach About the Journey & Related History

Learn More About the Journey & Related History

Sponsoring Organizations of Commemoration Planning & Events