They stopped in Greensboro 30 years ago to rest and invite people to join them.
``We gave them our blessings, but that was about it,' says Dr. George Simkins, former Greensboro NAACP chapter president. To have gone, he adds, ``would have been like going into a mine field down there.'``Down there' was the Deep South, destination of 13 bus travelers known as the ``freedom riders.' They were seven whites and six blacks who left Washington May 4, 1961 - exactly 30 years ago today - determined to challenge segregated facilities in bus stations in the South.
All the way through Dixie, the freedom riders sat together, ate together, drank from the same fountains and waited in the same waiting rooms.
Rider John Lewis, now a U.S. House member from Georgia, and two others were attacked in a whites-only waiting room in Rock Hill, S.C. The Ku Klux Klan burned a bus in Alabama. The riders were jailed in Birmingham. Lewis was knocked unconscious on the Alabama-Tennessee border.
The riders encountered little trouble in Greensboro, a city slowly starting to integrate, thanks to challenges by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and events such as the 1960 Woolworth sit-ins.
But national civil-rights leader James Farmer worried during a stopover meeting at Shiloh Baptist Church that ``a little steam' had gone out of the civil-rights movement since the Woolworth ``coffee party.'
``We're fighting for future generations who can travel anywhere, by bus, train, plane or car, stop at any place and use any restaurant, hotel, theater that they please and feel free and secure,' said Farmer, whose Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) sponsored the rides.
Shiloh's pastor, the Rev. Otis Hairston, remembers three bomb threats phoned in during the meeting. No one budged.
``I knew what was happening,' he recalls. ``It had happened in other cities. It was a pattern to try and stop the rallies.'
The riders included one Piedmont resident, the Rev. B. Elton Cox, then of High Point, who boarded in Washington. He no longer lives in the area.
As a result of the freedom riders, the Interstate Commerce Commission ordered all ``Whites' and ``Colored' signs removed from buses and terminals - replaced by warnings that it was unlawful to discriminate.