NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Wednesday marked 50 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law.

By that time, the struggle to end discrimination had been going on for years, and was drawing activists into the South from all around the country. One of those Freedom Riders was New Yorker Lewis Zuchman.

As CBS 2’s Marlie Hall reported, Zuchman was a tough and troubled teenager from New York City when he decided to follow his conscience into the heart of the civil rights battle.
“It just seemed like the right thing to do,” Zuchman said. “And what would we achieve? Who knew?”

In 1961, Jim Crow laws still ruled the South, enforcing segregation in public facilities. Civil rights leaders took aim at the transportation system, sending busloads of Freedom Riders to challenge the laws.

Zuchman boarded a Greyhound bus to Mississippi.

“The idea is when we got into the terminal in Jackson, the white Freedom Riders would go into the black waiting room and the black Freedom Riders would go into the white waiting room, and then we would be arrested,” he said.

Zuchman was indeed arrested. He spent 40 days in jail and came home with a new sense of purpose.

For nearly three decades now, Zuchman has headed an agency to support inner-city families. Seeing their challenges, he expressed worries that the Civil Rights Movement ended too soon.

But by no means did he say he felt like all his sacrifice was in vain.

“Social justice is a struggle,” Zuchman said.

The struggle paid off for the Freedom Riders. The signs came down, and a few years later, the Civil Rights Act became law.

“My choice to be a Freedom Rider healed me; it cleansed me,” Zuchman said. “For the first time, I felt I was good; I did something good.”

More than 400 activists eventually participated in the Freedom Rides.

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