Charles Person was the youngest person on the 1961 Freedom Ride. He was younger even than the legendary John Lewis, who went on to represent an Atlanta area district in the U.S. House of Representatives. Now, Person tells his story in Buses Are a Comin’: Memoir of a Freedom Rider. It publishes on April 27, 2021 and is available for pre-order now.
Person spends the majority of the book explaining where he came from and how he got involved in the groundbreaking bus ride. Despite the turbulent times, he tells his story in surprisingly quiet and calm manner.
Then, at 75%, we board the bus with him, and the intense drama begins. It is valuable to understand all of the lead up information, but I definitely wish Person had spent more time on the Ride. That part of his experience is like nothing the rest of us have experienced.
Nonetheless, it is interesting to read about Person’s family, his early life in one of Atlanta’s poorest neighborhoods, and how he made it to Morehouse College. His freshman year of college was certainly unlike any other freshman that year, and maybe ever, since it included protesting, being jailed, and joining the Freedom Ride.
Of course, Person feels the influence of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. both from the pulpit and as a civil rights crusader. But Person is perhaps more affected by the lesser-known Lonnie King, a fellow student instrumental in the civil rights activities on Atlanta’s historically Black Colleges and Universities. I appreciated learning about the various student leaders in Atlanta, especially after reading John Lewis’s March Trilogy a few years ago.
Charles Person is an inspiration. As a young man, he looked outside himself and knew he could make the world better by speaking up. And he and his fellow student activists did just that. They put the pressure on, adding to the other work being done in the Movement. This is also happening in today’s Black Lives Matter movement, likely inspired by early young activists like Person and Lewis.
Buses Are a Comin’ is a strong complement to the existing canon of knowledge about this time in history. However, it wasn’t as absorbing as I hoped it would be. Person and his co-author, Richard Rooker offer context and content. But I missed the intense emotions I expected to find there.
Still, if you’re looking for an inside view, it’s worth picking up. My reservations could be just a question of timing of my read.
Many thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press, and the author for a digital ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.