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*On this date in 2022, a 1947 Freedom Riders conviction was officially vacated.
"We failed these men," said Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour, who presided over the special session and at one point paused to gather himself after becoming emotional. "We failed their cause, and we failed to deliver justice in our community," Baddour said. "And for that, I apologize. So, we're doing this today to right a wrong, in public, and on the record."
In April 1947, the Journey of Reconciliation began. This effort was where 20th-century American Civil Rights activists used interstate buses for "freedom rides" to challenge Jim Crow laws. Four of the activist, Andrew Johnson, Joseph Felmet, Bayard Rustin, and Igal Roodenko, were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for refusing to move from the front of the bus. They were sentenced to work on a chain gang in North Carolina.
Renee Price (pictured), chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, told the audience that the special session resulted from research by Baddour and his staff after a previous anniversary of the case. "We are here, 75 years later, to address an injustice and henceforth to correct the narrative regarding the Journey of Reconciliation and that segment of American history."
Rustin's partner, Walter Naegle, spoke by Zoom and said Rustin and the three men "weren't fighting for their own good will, but for all of us ... Their faith and their consciences compelled them to act." Amy Zowniriw, Roodenko's niece, told the courtroom that her uncle was "the epitome of a moral and righteous citizen, yet he was put in jail for sitting next to his dear friend, Bayard Rustin."
In May 2022, five District Court judges marked the 75th anniversary of the arrests of Rustin and the three other men in Chapel Hill by reading a statement of apology. "The Orange County Court was on the wrong side of the law in May 1947, and it was on the wrong side of history," the statement 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." Speaking to about 100 people in the gallery, Baddour noted they were in the same second-story courtroom in the historic courthouse where the men were initially sentenced.