Freedom Rider discusses past during Black History Month

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published February 12, 2014

FARMINGTON HILLS — In 1961, Raymond B. Randolph was a feisty, strong-willed 21-year-old Virginia Union University student who was arrested in Jackson, Miss., for his participation in a Freedom Ride.As a Freedom Rider, Randolph, who is black, and five others took a bus from Nashville, Tenn., to Jackson, where they were arrested on June 7, 1961.

The civil rights activist was also arrested earlier in 1960 for his participation in a sit-in in Richmond, Va.

He spent four months in the state penitentiary and 10 days in jail. He seemed, though, to be more worried about what his father, who thought he was studying in school at the time, would think more than what the repercussions of racism could ever do to him.

If you ask the man of stature today, who is slow in his walk but as fiery as his 21-year-old self, he would do it all over again.

Randolph spoke to a small crowd at the Farmington Community Library Feb. 2.

“A lot of us were maimed, hurt seriously and died,” Randolph said to the rapt audience. “Those were interesting times. If I had to start my life all over again, I would do the same thing, because that makes me the guy I am today.

“I owe everything I have to my father. He taught me work ethic. I could go on and on and on,” he said, but the tears streaming down his face stopped him.

Randolph, a Farmington Hills resident, gave a detailed account of his life in the ’60s and how a turbulent, racist society molded him into the bold leader he is today. He still gets emotional when speaking about his father, who asked him to back down on being a Freedom Rider to get him out of jail. Randolph told him no at the time.

In addition to being a Freedom Rider, Randolph was one of the 34 individuals in Richmond who were arrested on Feb. 22, 1960, after trying to integrate the segregated lunch counter of Thalhimers Department Store. The consequences of their civil disobedience could have been extreme, including expulsion from their university, losing their jobs and having people boycott their family businesses, as well as threats from the Ku Klux Klan and lynchings, according to the nonprofit Fractured Atlas.

One attendee thanked Randolph for his courage to take a stand against racism and injustice.

“We can only hope our children can be as courageous to do those things that mean something in life,” the attendee said, to which Randolph responded:  “I’m just Ray Randolph. I’m just a regular guy.”

Randolph kicked off Black History Month at the main library branch, 32737 W. 12 Mile Road. Other events are scheduled at the library and throughout the community.

Library Director Tina M. Theeke, a member of the local Multicultural Multiracial Community Council, said the mission of the council is to spread peace, similar to the mission of many leaders honored during the month of February.

“Our mission is to work to assure that all residents of our communities enjoy a harmonious, healthy environment and that they feel welcome and comfortable in their cities, schools and neighborhoods,” she said.

Some library events celebrating Black History Month include a book discussion at 7 p.m. Feb. 13 in the main library’s children’s program room about “The Colored Car,” a tribute to 13-year-old Patsy Ford, who grew up in Detroit in the 1930s and experienced Jim Crow laws; a 6:30 p.m. Feb. 17 main library auditorium movie about baseball player Jackie Robinson, “42: The True Story of an American Legend”; and a 7 p.m. Feb. 18 main library auditorium musical folktales event featuring interactive stories with musical accompaniment.

In Farmington, Painting with a Twist, 33033 Grand River Ave., will host a Black History Month-themed painting class 7-9 p.m. Feb. 24.

The event will feature “Peace, Power, Respect” paintings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., President Barack Obama and Malcolm X for attendees to paint. Registration is $35 at

For more information, go to

To find out about more Black History Month events in Detroit, go to