Summary and book reviews of Buses Are a Comin' by Charles Person

Buses Are a Comin'

Memoir of a Freedom Rider

by Charles Person, Richard Rooker

Buses Are a Comin' by Charles Person, Richard Rooker X
Buses Are a Comin' by Charles Person, Richard Rooker
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  • Published:
    Apr 2021, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

A firsthand exploration of the cost of boarding the bus of change to move America forward - written by one of the Civil Rights Movement's pioneers.

At 18, Charles Person was the youngest of the original Freedom Riders, key figures in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement who left Washington, D.C. by bus in 1961, headed for New Orleans. This purposeful mix of black and white, male and female activists―including future Congressman John Lewis, Congress of Racial Equality Director James Farmer, Reverend Benjamin Elton Cox, journalist and pacifist James Peck, and CORE field secretary Genevieve Hughes―set out to discover whether America would abide by a Supreme Court decision that ruled segregation unconstitutional in bus depots, waiting areas, restaurants, and restrooms nationwide.

The Freedom Riders found their answer. No. Southern states would continue to disregard federal law and use violence to enforce racial segregation. One bus was burned to a shell; the second, which Charles rode, was set upon by a mob that beat the Riders nearly to death.

Buses Are a Comin' provides a front-row view of the struggle to belong in America, as Charles leads his colleagues off the bus, into the station, into the mob, and into history to help defeat segregation's violent grip on African American lives. It is also a challenge from a teenager of a previous era to the young people of today: become agents of transformation. Stand firm. Create a more just and moral country where students have a voice, youth can make a difference, and everyone belongs.

Life in the Bottom

Let us look at Jim Crow for the criminal he is and what he had done to one life multiplied millions of times over these United States and the world. He walks us on a tightrope from birth.

—Rosa Parks

1

Our neighbor had a peach tree in his yard. A vegetable garden, too. I loved fruit. So did my cousin, Kenneth Booker. We craved juicy flavors created by sinking our teeth into tree-ripe Georgia peaches.

We felt the fuzz on the fruit and checked our chins to see if we were growing any. Neither Kenneth nor I were yet ten years old. No fuzz.

Our neighbor was—who knew how old? Thirty? Fifty? One hundred twenty? In the early 1950s, kids didn't know the ages of adults. They were adults. They were old. We were kids—young, full of fun, and hungry.

The sun was hot. Summers in Atlanta can be sweltering. Swelter builds thirst. Thirst builds temptation. Temptation yields to naughty.

Some days Kenneth and I pretended we were marines fighting in Korea in the bitter ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The lion's share of the narrative concerns the Freedom Rides, but every chapter is peppered with references to other important moments and people in the Civil Rights Movement, as well as ties to current events such as the murder of George Floyd and Colin Kaepernick's taking a knee at NFL games. As such, the book is not only a memoir and a snapshot of a critical juncture in America's history, but extremely relevant to our current state of affairs. Person's prose flows smoothly between these subjects in a conversational tone; the fact that his account is so evidently personal heightens its impact on the audience...continued

Full Review Members Only (953 words).

(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

New York Journal of Books
Person does a terrific job of contextualizing the Freedom Rides in the arc of the Freedom Movement and his own life by describing his activist baptism in the Atlanta Student Movement...Buses Are a Comin’ offers more than a tribute to the Freedom Riders and other activists who put their lives on the line in the face of segregationist massive resistance and stirred the youngest among them, Charles Person, to do likewise. It also aims to teach and inspire readers just joining the struggle, in a time when the work of the Freedom Movement remains undeniably unfinished.

Library Journal
Person's engagingly rendered, intimate testimony offers a look at the power of character and conviction among grassroots activists who paid the painful price of direct action to penetrate America's consciousness. His words call for continuing efforts to 'do something.'

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[A] striking personal history of the 1961 Freedom Rides in protest of the nonenforcement of Supreme Court rulings banning racial segregation on interstate transportation...Shot through with vivid details of beatdowns, arrests, and awe-inspiring bravery, this inspirational account captures the magnitude of what the early civil rights movement was up against.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A stirring memoir...By divulging the inner stories of his fellow riders, Person offers a unique and powerful aggregate view of events. A vital story, this memoir is also an instructive gift to future generations fighting for change.

Author Blurb William H. Chafe, Alice Mary Baldwin Professor of History, emeritus, Duke University; former president, Organization of American Historians, author of Civilities and Civil Rights and The Rise and Fall of the American Century
A compelling narrative, rich in its description of the searing brutality of white racists opposed to the Freedom Rides of 1961, powerful in its depiction of the courage of civil rights protestors.

Author Blurb Rev. Dr. Carolyn M McKinstry, author of While the World Watched
Charles Person's book is a very personal, poignant and political account of his life's evolution. It is especially revelatory for young males (of any ethnicity) in their sacred search for 'self, relevance and calling.' It is a vivid personal snapshot of his coming of age. He fully exposes his life's journey: genuinely and movingly. His legacy is well established in this writing. He reminds us of the debt that we owe for the life that we have been given; and that to whom much is given and entrusted, much more is required.

Author Blurb Derek Catsam, Professor of History and Kathlyn Cosper Dunagan Professor in the Humanities, University of Texas-Permian Basin, and author of Freedom's Main Line: The Journey of Reconciliation and the Freedom Rides
Buses Are a Comin' is the most complete recounting we have of any of the Freedom Riders' experiences during those epochal days of 1961, and is at times lyrical, always insightful, and reveals a true American hero who is humble and appreciative. But Charles Person also subtly wants to exhort others, this and future generations, to 'get on the bus' and challenge inequality and injustice.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)

Morehouse graduates during the commencement ceremony In his memoir Buses Are a Comin', Charles Person explains that he got involved with the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s-1960s through fellow students at his school, Morehouse College, which is one of the country's oldest Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

The HBCU designation was created by the Higher Education Act of 1965, which defines an HBCU as "any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association."

The first all-Black institute of higher learning in the American South was Shaw University, founded in Raleigh, North...

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