Get on the Bus! A Look Back at the Historic Freedom Rides
Teaser Image

James Peck

Title: Freedom Riders picketing
Button: Click to display an enlarged version of the image.
A radical pacifist, trade union proponent, and white civil rights activist, James Peck was actively involved in the civil rights movement, particularly in the Freedom Rides of 1961. Peck also wrote the introduction to a Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) reprint of Martin Luther King Jr.'s article, "Our Struggle: The Story of Montgomery," which originally appeared in Liberation. "By encouraging and supporting actions such as that in Montgomery," Peck informed readers, "we who adhere to the principles of nonviolence hope to hasten complete abolition of segregation within our social system."

The son of a wealthy clothier, Peck was born in New York City on December 19, 1914. He briefly attended Harvard University before becoming a full-time activist. Peck was interned for 28 months during World War II as a conscientious objector, and in 1947 he participated in CORE's Journey of Reconciliation. Thereafter, he worked with the War Resisters League and CORE, editing the newsletter CORElator for 17 years.

During the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Peck helped the Montgomery Improvement Association raise funds by sending the group matchbooks bearing slogans. In 1960 King wrote the introduction to Peck's pamphlet, "Cracking the Color Line: Non-Violent Direct Action Methods of Eliminating Racial Discrimination." In the introduction King praised CORE for using "brains and imagination as well as good-will, self-discipline, and persistence."

Peck was the only participant in the original Journey of Reconciliation to join the Freedom Rides in 1961. When the bus he was riding arrived in Birmingham, Alabama, he was knocked unconscious and suffered a gash that required 53 stitches to close. In February 1962 Peck sent King a copy of his memoir Freedom Ride, informing King that the book's chapter on Montgomery quoted "at length" from King's Liberation article.

Although he was ousted from CORE in 1966 when that group adopted Black Power policies and abandoned its previous policy of interracial cooperation, Peck continued to be active in the movement to end the Vietnam War. He expressed his continuing admiration for King in a June 1966 letter to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference leader: "Despite the increasing clamor for 'black power' and 'self-defense,' you adhere to the principles of equality and nonviolence."

By the early 1980s, Peck was actively involved with Amnesty International. However, after suffering a stroke, which paralyzed his side, he moved into a nursing home in 1985. Peck died in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on July 12, 1993.

Clayborne Carson et al.

Further Reading
Arsenault, Raymond. Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

©2011 ABC-CLIO. All rights reserved.

ABC-cLIO Footer