Freedom Riders to take part in MLK March in San Antonio

Activists share their involvement in civil rights movement

SAN ANTONIO – Activists involved in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, known as Freedom Riders, will be participating in the Martin Luther King Jr. March on Monday in San Antonio.

Hezekiah Watkins remembers one of the first incidents involving the Freedom Riders. 

"Why would a person set a bus on fire with individuals inside?" asked Watkins, referring to a fiery attack by the Ku Klux Klan in May 1961 near the Alabama border.

The group would ride buses into the southern states, ignoring a recently overturned law stating that segregation on buses was unconstitutional. 

Watkins became involved when he was 13 years old while living in Jackson, Mississippi, where he lived a few blocks from the Greyhound bus station. One day, the Freedom Riders arrived at the bus station and Watkins decided to see what they were about. 

"I wanted to go down to just look at them, to see how they look like, dressed like, the whole nine yards, because I saw the Freedom Riders in Alabama, and I saw the beating that they were taking," he said. "And I thought, 'What type of human would put their body out there like that.' I wanted to see them. I went down with my friend. 

"When we arrived, we didn't see a lot of activity. We were walking around by the front door and as a joke he pushed me inside, and by being pushed inside, I was arrested and taken to the state prison and put on death row. I was there for five-and-a-half days (which) appeared to be five-and-a-half months," Watkins said.

Following that incident, Watkins became more involved in the movement. 

Watkins was later drafted into the Army and served two years in South Korea before returning to work for health and human resources agencies. He currently works at the Jackson Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. 

"I was arrested 109 times," Watkins said. 

Barbara Bowie got involved because her brother was a Freedom Rider. 

"We enjoyed going to sit-ins, where we would go to places we weren't allowed to go," Bowie said. 

Bowie was born in Jackson, Mississippi, where she became a licensed vocational nurse in 1969 and started out her nursing career in Neonatal JCU at Christus Santa Rosa Medical Center. In 1994, Bowie became a published poetry writer and established the Bowie Foundation "Arts in Focus" After School Program. She devoted her life helping the youth. 

Bowie said she became involved in the civil rights movement because she thought about the future. 

"We did not want our children, our grandchildren and so on to go through what we went through during that time," Bowie said. 

For Patricia Dilworth, she learned the hard way. 

"I waved at the waitress and asked her, 'Can I get served?' and she told me I had to go to the back. I said, 'Back of what?' and she said, 'restaurant.' And she said that's where you will be served," Dilworth said. 

Dilworth was arrested when she was 18 in Mississippi. 

"We were going into the parts of the train station that was for whites only," Dilworth said. 

Dilworth said jail was no different for her. 

"We were allowed once a week to take a shower," she said.

After all the experiences, Dilworth believes the fight for justice isn't over. 

"I see us going back and I hope people will fight that. Not just for blacks, for anybody that is being persecuted," Dilworth said. 

Dilworth was born in Tucson, Arizona, and later joined the U.S. Army and retired as a sergeant major. She now lives in San Antonio. 

MLK March Route 2019 by David Ibanez on Scribd

About the Author:

Tiffany Huertas is a reporter for KSAT 12 known for her in-depth storytelling and her involvement with the community.