"IF WE CANNOT REORGANIZE OUR SOCIETY ON A MORE HUMAN AND EQUITABLE BASIS, WE WILL SOON, AS CITIZENS, HAVE LOST ANY ABILITY TO REORGANIZE IT AT ALL" (JAMES BALDWIN)
(BALDWIIN, James) (SMITH, Lillian) PECK, James. Freedom Ride. New York: Simon and Schuster, (1962). Octavo, original orange cloth, original dust jacket. $450.
First edition of James Peck's powerful record of the first Freedom Ride, featuring a foreword by James Baldwin.
Peck, a lifelong activist, became involved with CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) in 1946. He was part of its landmark Journey of Reconciliation in 1947, edited CORE's newsletter for decades, and was often arrested as part of sit-ins at Woolworths in 1960. In 1961 CORE co-founder James Farmer, along with Peck and others, began planning Freedom Rides that would test the Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation of interstate passengers on buses and in facilities such as waiting rooms and rest rooms. In May 1961 Peck was a member of the interracial group of Freedom Riders in the first Freedom Ride that traveled from Washington, D.C. to Birmingham on two buses. When the first bus arrived in Anniston, a mob attacked and set the bus on fire, beating Freedom Riders as they escaped. When the second bus arrived, carrying Peck's group of Freedom Riders, another mob of armed men boarded, forcing them and any Black passengers to the back before allowing the bus to continue on.
In Freedom Ride, Peck's account of these dangerous early days, he writes of arriving in Birmingham to be met by more armed men. The mob pushed them into an alley and, in Peck's words: "started swinging at me with fists and pipes… within seconds I was unconscious… a photo of my beating, clearly showing the hate-filled expression of my assailants, appeared in the next morning's Post-Herald." In Walking with the Wind, Congressman John Lewis' memoir, he praised Peck as "one of the most committed white members of CORE." Lewis recalled first hearing of Peck's assault on the radio, which reported that one man's face "was beaten and kicked until it was a bloody pulp." Lewis writes: "that was Jim Peck's face… he and Charles Person had stepped off at the Birmingham terminal into a furious, club-wielding crowd of men, including local members of the KKK. There was not a policeman in sight, though the whole world knew the riders were coming… As for Jim Peck, the gashes in his head would eventually take 53 stitches… Testimony presented before the U.S. Congress years later described local Klan leaders… receiving a promise that their mob would be given enough time to freely attack the passengers before the police moved in" (146-47). First edition with "First Printing" on copyright page. Gift inscription dated year of publication.
Book fine; lightest edge-wear to elusive about-fine dust jacket.