Wednesday’s Oprah show features retired SRU professor
Thomas Gaither, retired Slippery Rock University professor emeritus of biology, and his sister, Glenda Gaither Davis, will discuss their work as Freedom Riders on Wednesday’s edition of the “Oprah Winfrey Show.”
The show, which is helping promote the new PBS documentary “Freedom Riders,” airs locally at 4 p.m., on Pittsburgh’s WTAE, Channel 4 (Channel 4 on SRU’s cable system) and Youngstown’s WFMJ, Channel 21 (Channel 21 on SRU’s cable system).
The Gaithers were Calfin University students in the early 1960s when they participated in the civil rights movement.
Thomas Gaither joined the SRU faculty in 1968. He retired in 2007 after 39 years service. He often discussed his work in the civil rights movement in lectures during Black History Month and in connection with Rev. Martin Luther King Day events and discussed his service as a national field secretary for the Congress of Racial Equity, best known as “CORE.” CORE organized the Freedom Riders project.
The University honored Gaither with a Pacesetter Award in 2004 for his work in creating an atmosphere of diversity on campus and in organizations across the nation.
SRU offers a $1,000 scholarship in his name.
The Freedom Riders were a group of several hundred, non-violent protestors who wanted to test the strength of a Supreme Court ruling that found segregation of buses and trains across state lines was unconstitutional. The Freedom Riders rode together in large numbers on trains and buses from state to state in 1961. The riders were often met with discrimination and, in some cases, violence or imprisonment.
In September 1961, the Interstate Commerce Commission issued an order to cease all segregation in buses and trains. After the order, Gaither suggested another ride across the South to test the strength of the ruling. The group, which included seven black and six white people, encountered little trouble during their journey, proof that the movement was gaining ground.
PBS’s “Freedom Riders” documentary premieres at 9 p.m., May 16, on WQED in Pittsburgh and WNEO in Kent. Davis is among those featured in the documentary, which was directed by award-winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson.
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