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Before laying down tracks, we interviewed Dr. Patton, and he reflected on how the Civil Rights era of the 1960s connects with today; his advice for young people today; his historic ride, and how his mother accidentally found out he was hundreds of miles from home being arrested.
On May 24, 1961, Patton joined fellow Tennessee State University students and others in boarding a Greyhound bus in Montgomery, Alabama, just 10 days after Klansmen had burned a Freedom Riders Greyhound bus in Anniston, Alabama, and other white supremists had beaten and bloodied those on a Trailways bus in Birmingham. Just three days earlier, Montgomery's First Baptist Church had been attacked.
National Guardsmen with fixed bayonets stood in the aisles of the bus, assigned by the federal government to protect the activists, and helicopters flew the route Patton and the Freedom Riders took from Montgomery to Jackson, Mississippi. There also were sharecroppers along the way, and Patton saw little kids waving and pointing, as if they knew the Freedom Riders and relief were on the way.
Patton and John Lewis took seats in the whites-only lunch counter of the Jackson Greyhound station. Lewis, who has served as a U.S. Congressman from Georgia since 1987, got up to go to the whites-only bathroom, where he was arrested. Patton was arrested at the lunch counter. They and the others arrested were taken to notorious Parchman Penitentiary, where they were imprisoned for 62 days.
Patton was one of 14 TSU students who were expelled for taking part in the Freedom Rides. Later, the university apologized and gave them honorary doctorates.
Patton tells his story to this day, and speaks to students and others around the country, on behalf of various educational organizations such as Facing History and Ourselves. Patton also sings in the Nashville-based New Spirit and Friends choir.