In 1961, 436 Freedom Riders risked their lives in the name of equality. In the case of the Freedom Riders, that equality came in the form of desegregated buses, trains and travel facilities in the Deep South. Each one of them demonstrated unimaginable courage and dignity and all deserve deep gratitude and recognition. But in the beginning, there were just 13 Riders -- 13 people who didn't know what they would face, didn't know if the movement would gain any traction, and didn't know if they'd even live to see the results. June 6 marked the passing of one of those original 13 Freedom Riders, the Reverend Benjamin Elton Cox, who died at the age of 79.
Over the past year and a half, as I led community and educational outreach around the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE film Freedom Riders, I had the honor and pleasure of meeting many of the 1961 Riders. While I never did meet Ben Elton Cox, I came to know that there are some traits that were necessarily universal among all of the Riders. All demonstrated a deep commitment to nonviolence. All prioritized the greater good for all above their own wellbeing. And all had a tremendous love for a generation yet unknown to them. Those are all things that are easy to write about and easy to talk about, but nearly impossible to actualize in one's own life. So while I didn't know Ben Elton Cox, I am saddened by the loss of someone whose courage was strong enough to change a nation in 1961, and continue to inspire today.
On behalf of the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE staff, I would like to send our condolences to Ben Elton Cox's family and friends, and express deep gratitude for the Reverend Cox's commitment equality and justice for all.
You can learn more about Ben Elton Cox here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/freedomriders/people/benjamin-elton-cox
And more about his fellow Freedom Riders and the movement here: http://www.pbs.org/freedomriders
Lauren Prestileo is a project manager for American Experience.
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