Jimmy Allen Ruth had just started driving for Trailways in 1961 when a group of Freedom Riders wanted a bus to take them from Nashville to Jackson, Mississippi. Every driver turned the assignment down but the 23-year-old Ruth, who was white. "He agreed to drive the students and never asked any questions although he was aware of the risks involved," a family statement said. "Ruth was willing to aid in the cause for freedom and justice at all cost." He died Wednesday in a hospital in Bartlett, Tennessee, the Tennessean reports. He was 83. Along with local Freedom Riders, Ruth was honored on the 50th anniversary by Nashville's NAACP for their courage in advancing the cause of civil rights. The Tennessee State Museum displays his driving memorabilia.
The riders set off from Washington, DC, partly to put pressure on President Kennedy's new administration to act on civil rights. Bombings and beatings by white mobs sometimes met the riders, per the AP, and many Black and white riders were jailed. The movement helped desegregate public transportation in the South. The late US Rep. John Lewis and CT Vivian were among the riders who left Nashville for the Deep South that summer. Ruth's family said he considered his role a small part but learned of its significance later. He wanted to make a difference in someone's life, he said. When he was asked to drive the Freedom Riders, the statement said, he decided to do it because "if they were going to die, I was going to die with them." (Read more obituary stories.)