He Risked His Life Photographing the 1961 Freedom Riders. Theodore Gaffney Just Died from the Coronavirus at 92.Breaking News
tags: obituaries, civil rights, photography, journalism, coronavirus, mass media, COVID-19
In the spring of 1961, Jet magazine asked Theodore Gaffney, a Washington freelance photographer, to travel with the Freedom Riders, a group of activists from across the country who planned to challenge segregation in the South by riding Greyhound and Trailways buses.
Organized by the Congress of Racial Equality, the Freedom Riders wanted to sit in the front of the buses with white people, use whites-only restrooms in bus terminals and eat at whites-only lunch counters.
Gaffney, who died Easter Sunday of the coronavirus at age 92, eagerly signed up. He found himself risking his life and documenting one of the most tumultuous 48 hours in civil rights history.
Gaffney’s own history helped make him the perfect person to chronicle the civil rights movement. He was the descendant of people who had been enslaved at a plantation near the town of Gaffney, S.C., according to his first cousin Patricia Johnson, 72.