At 18, Charles Person was the youngest of the original Freedom Riders, key figures in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement who left Washington, D.C. by bus in 1961, headed for New Orleans. This purposeful mix of black and white, male and female activists―including future Congressman John Lewis, Congress of Racial Equality Director James Farmer, Reverend Benjamin Elton Cox, journalist and pacifist James Peck, and CORE field secretary Genevieve Hughes―set out to discover whether America would abide by a Supreme Court decision that ruled segregation unconstitutional in bus depots, waiting areas, restaurants, and restrooms nationwide.
Two buses proceeded through Virginia, North and South Carolina, to Georgia where they were greeted by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and finally to Alabama. There, the Freedom Riders found their answer: No. Southern states would continue to disregard federal law and use violence to enforce racial segregation. One bus was burned to a shell, its riders narrowly escaping; the second, which Charles rode, was set upon by a mob that beat several riders nearly to death.
From one battleground to another, Charles enlisted in the Marine Corps and served in Vietnam in the early phase of the US build-up in 1965-1966.