Freedom Rider shares Civil Rights tales

A group of Grand Haven High School students listened intently as Thomas Armstrong recounted his experiences during the Civil Rights Movement.
Krystle Wagner
May 3, 2014

On Friday, nearly 200 students listened to Armstrong, a Mississippi native, give firsthand accounts of what it was like growing up in a segregated South and being a Freedom Rider.

Larry Halverson, the public relations coordinator for Loutit District Library, said Armstrong contacted the library about the opportunity to speak with community members. The library worked in conjunction with Grand Haven Area Public Schools and local donors for the visit.

Armstrong also spoke to about 80 people at the library on Thursday night.

The 72-year-old co-wrote a book with Natalie Bell about his life, entitled “Autobiography of a Freedom Rider: My Life as a Foot Soldier for Civil Rights.”

During his Grand Haven visit, Armstrong recounted the day he realized what kind of America he lived in.

After missing the school bus, Armstrong, then 13, received a ride to school. The driver dropped him off in front of an ice cream parlor. After trying to order, he was instructed to move to the window designated for “colored people,” which was near a large bin filled with garbage.

“That opened my eyes,” he said.

Armstrong said African-Americans had to sit in the balconies of movie theaters, while white people sat on the main floor.

Armstrong — who now lives in Naperville, Ill. — said he was arrested twice, but he considers himself lucky that it wasn’t more because he often sat in the third seat back in the front of the bus. If the driver asked him to move, he moved one seat back at a time.

To read the whole story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

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