Freedom Rides Tribute Wins International Award

The UMW exhibit, James Farmer and the 1961 Freedom Rides, on Ball Circle was staged on and around a 1960s-era bus. Photo by Norm Shafer.

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) awarded its prestigious international Grand Gold Circle of Excellence Award to UMW for its commemoration of James Farmer and the 1961 Freedom Rides.

UMW received the top award in the special events category and was one of only 19 institutions to win the Grand Gold designation for exceptional work.

“Nothing has made me prouder,” President Richard V. Hurley said. “In the marking of an event that changed the course of history, I’m thrilled that the rest of the world now recognizes what I long have believed: The University of Mary Washington mounted the greatest tribute possible to James Farmer and the Freedom Rides.”

In February 2011, UMW launched one of the most comprehensive institution-wide projects in its history to honor the legacy of the late James Farmer. The UMW professor emeritus of history was the architect of the 1961 Freedom Ride campaign that led to the desegregation of public interstate transportation in the South.

The UMW commemoration centered on a 1960s-era bus embellished with historical press photos from the Freedom Rides and featured guest lecturers, student exhibits, and a limited-release showing of the PBS American Experience documentary Freedom Riders. The tribute culminated with commencement addresses by two original Riders, Rep. Bob Filner of California and Rep. John Lewis of Georgia. Both applauded the University’s efforts.

“No other university – no other college – in America is pausing like you have to celebrate and commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides,” Lewis said. “Thank you.”

In addition, UMW hosted the first stop of the PBS American Experience bus that traced the route of the first Ride. On board the moving classroom were 40 college students – including Charles Reed ’11 – and original Riders, experts, and journalists. A UMW Freedom Rides website chronicled the celebration, and UMW Magazine published a special edition devoted to it. The events attracted national media attention and brought thousands of visitors to the Fredericksburg campus.

For its international Circle of Excellence competition, CASE received more than 2,800 entries in 40 categories from 567 member institutions, independent schools, and nonprofit organizations around the world. The program distinguishes outstanding work in advancement services, alumni relations, communications, fundraising, and marketing. Peer professionals and experts outside of education judged the competition.