Was this the first test challenging segregation using the interstate bus system?
No, in fact CORE and the Fellowship of Reconciliation led a 1947 two-week Journey of Reconciliation in which Black and white riders took to the road to test the 1946 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Morgan v. Virginia that determined segregated seating on a bus was unconstitutional. Even before that, individuals tested the waters. Irene Morgan (later Kirkaldy), an African-American woman refused to give up her seat to a white couple on a Greyhound bus from Gloucester, Virginia to Baltimore in 1944. Morgan was the plaintiff in the Morgan v. Virginia case that later made its way to the Supreme Court. Even earlier, in 1942, Bayard Rustin rode from Louisville, Kentucky to Nashville. Rustin refused to stay in the back of the bus and was arrested and beaten by police. Rustin served as the treasurer of CORE during the 1947 rides.
Did women participate in the Freedom Rides?
Yes, the Freedom Riders were men and women and also an interracial group. Some of the women involved included Diane Nash, Catherine Burks-Brooks, Ruby Doris Smith, Pauline Knight-Ofosu and Glenda Gaither Davis. Author and Freedom Rider Charles Person estimates 25% of the riders were women.
Was there violence against the riders?
Yes. In several cities the riders were intimidated and experienced beatings and arrests. During one incident John Lewis, who later became a congressman from Georgia was beaten in Rock Hill, South Carolina. In Anniston, Alabama a bus carrying riders was attacked and firebombed. Riders were able to escape the burning bus, but were badly beaten.
Sources: History Channel, NPR, Stanford University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute; “Buses Are A Comin’: Memoir of a Freedom Rider” by Charles Person and Richard Rooker, Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.