In 1961, Hank Thomas, along with other Freedom Riders, rode buses and made a bold move that changed the face of history. In a bid to give us a glimpse of the past, USA TODAY launched Seven Days of 1961, a multimedia series that also offers an AR experience of the pivotal events that transpired in May 1961.
The AR experience, entitled A Dangerous Ride on the Road to Freedom, and the series itself, highlights the protests of the Freedom Riders, led by Hank Thomas, to end legal segregation in the US and to give millions of Black Americans the right to vote.
The experience aims to take viewers back to the past and relive the crucial events that took place during the civil rights movement. With the AR experience, users will be alongside the activists who challenged white supremacy and fought for the freedom and equality of millions of Black Americans.
Hank Thomas and the Freedom Riders
The Freedom Riders were a group of white and Black American civil rights activists who joined the Freedom Rides in 1961. The Freedom Rides were bus trips organized as a protest against how the Supreme Court ruling of public transportation was not enforced in the South, an area that was heavily segregated. The Freedom Riders tried to use amenities at bus stations that were made available only to white people in Southern states.
On May 4, 1961, activists known as “Freedom Riders” boarded two buses that left Washington and were bound for New Orleans. The group was met with resistance in Virginia. Some Freedom Riders were arrested. They first encountered violence when they arrived in South Carolina. Members of the group were beaten. This event then gained widespread media attention.
Trouble in Alabama
During their stop in Atlanta, the Freedom Riders learned that trouble was brewing in Alabama. On May 14, 1961, the first bus to arrive in Anniston was a Greyhound bus.
When they arrived in Anniston, Alabama, the group was met with violence by members of the Ku Klux Klan, led by William Chappell. The mob, armed with weapons, surrounded the bus and proceeded to attack. They smashed the windows, slashed tires, and hurled racial insults at the Freedom Riders. They threw firebombs that forced the Freedom Riders, including Hank Thomas, to flee into the angry crowd that proceeded to beat them.
Thomas was struck in the head with a baseball bat, which caused him to almost lose his consciousness. The police looked on and offered the Riders no protection.
After a few hours, the Greyhound bus was followed by a Trailways bus, whose passengers were beaten after using “whites only” establishments and amenities in Birmingham and Anniston.
The attack garnered the attention of the national media. However, the Freedom Rides were cut short due to the violence that the activists faced. Despite the rides being cut short, many activists sought to continue fighting for their cause. Their continued protest against segregation fueled a movement that would result in the abolishment of segregation.
AR Experience “A Dangerous Ride on the Road to Freedom”: A Glimpse of America’s Tumultuous Past
History has its fill of the good and the bad. It’s shaped by events and people who made and continue to make the present what it is today.
The engaging and immersive experiences offered by technology, such as augmented reality, enable people to experience the past, to see first-hand the events that shaped the nation. USA TODAY’s Seven Days of 1961: A Dangerous Ride on the Road to Freedom is one such experience. USA TODAY leverages emerging technology to deliver innovative and compelling content that educates readers.
Through this, users can step inside the bus and gain a more intimate understanding of the circumstances during the tumultuous period that permanently left its mark in history. The augmented reality story provides an experience that combines Hank Thomas’s narrative with 3D visualizations of historical images and the Freedom Riders Greyhound bus.
Discover the journey of the Freedom Riders and listen to Hank Thomas’s account as he traveled with other Riders in pursuit of freedom and equality.
To access the AR experience, download the latest version of the USA TODAY app on an AR-capable device and scan the provided QR code for your iOS or Android device.
Seven Days of 1961: A Dangerous Ride on the Road to Freedom is narrated by Jarrad Henderson, Senior Video Producer for USA TODAY. It was created in collaboration with Melissa Brown, the Tennessean’s State Government and Politics Reporter.