Friday, February 10, 2012

Taking to the Skies for Freedom

Freedom Rider Kredelle Petway
The Freedom Riders consisted of 436 individuals from different states, races and genders, each with their own story to tell.

Throughout February, we're telling the stories of 2 local Freedom Riders, along with the author who shined the spotlight on their courageous story.  This week, we feature Kredelle Petway, one of the only airplane Freedom Riders.

Activist by birth

Born in Camden, Alabama in 1941, Kredelle Petway is the daughter of Matthew Petway, a pastor and former NAACP activist.

With her father's ties to the NAACP, Kredelle Petway found herself active with the local movement.

In the early 1960's, she participated in Montgomery and Tallahassee sit-ins. Petway studied mathematics at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee.

Petway spent her breaks from Florida A&M at home in Montgomery, Ala. In 1961, she filled in as a secretary for the Montgomery Improvement Association, a group started in 1955, after Rosa Park's arrest for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus.

When King calls

That summer was particularly special for Petway.

She sat around the dinner table with Dr. Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy (Dr. King's close assistant and best friend) and her father Matthew Petway to discuss the Petway family's participation in the 2nd wave of Freedom Rides.
The Freedom Riders faced violence such as this torched bus

The first wave, originating in Washington, ended in a bombed-out bus and bloodied riders.

The plan for the family was to board a flight from Montgomery to Jackson, Mississippi. 

On July 24, 1961, Petway, her father, brother and Cecil A. Thomas, a fellow Freedom rider were arrested only minutes after arrival in the Jackson airport. She was just 20-years-old.

Kredelle Petwaywas arrested as a Freedom Rider
"When we landed in Jackson, they were waiting for us," Kredelle Petway said. The group spent three days in jail before being bailed out.

"It was very interesting, because I knew we were going to get out," Petway said. "I was too excited to be nervous."

Racial segregation on buses, trains and planes officially ended on November 1, 1961, six years after Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat and eight months after the beginning of the Freedom Rides.

Following the rides, Petway graduated from Florida A & M University in 1972 with a degree in mathematics. Over the years, Petway worked for a number of organizations, including the Louisville Urban League, U.S. Department of Treasury and Veteran Affairs. 

Remaining devoted to advancing civil rights, Petway retired in 1999 to focus on promoting equal opportunity employment practices. She now resides across the bay in Apollo Beach, FL.

It All Started on a Bus...

HART is honoring the Freedom Riders, and the author who shined the spotlight on their courageous story throughout February. Visit to find out what HART is doing to honor their contributions.

1 comment:

  1. I attended Florida A&M and did not know this, but thanks to the Alumni on other social networks the word is being spread about what a courageous Rattler Ms Petway is to all of us.

    Bryon McKie


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