In 1947, Rustin and the men were among the first group of freedom riders who boarded buses in multiple cities to challenge laws that mandated segregation on interstate travel after the Supreme Court deemed these restrictions unconstitutional.
As the freedom riders attempted to board a bus in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, they were attacked and forcefully removed. Rustin, Andrew Johnson, James Felmet, and Igal Roodenko were all arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for sitting at the front of the bus — they were sentenced to work on a chain gang in North Carolina.
On Friday (June 17), the four men were officially posthumously vacated of the conviction.
Chairman of the Orange County Board of Commissioners Renée Price said in a statement, “While this judicial action is taking place 75 years after the injustice occurred, never should we falter in examining past wrongs, seeking reparation, and lifting those heavy burdens from our hearts and minds so that future generations may know justice.”
Their cleared convictions follow last month's apology from district court judges amid the 75th anniversary of the freedom riders' arrests.
“The Orange County Court was on the wrong side of the law in May 1947, and it was on the wrong side of history,” a statement from five district court judges read. “Today, we stand before our community on behalf of all five District Court Judges for Orange and Chatham Counties and accept the responsibility entrusted to us to do our part to eliminate racial disparities in our justice system.”