Rev. Ben Cox, Former C-U Resident and Freedom Rider, Dies at Age 79
A pastor who was one of the original Freedom Riders and spent much of his life in Champaign-Urbana has died.
The Rev. Ben Elton Cox Sr. died Sunday in Jackson, Tenn. The 79-year-old Baptist minister had lived in Tennessee since 1998.
The News-Gazette reports that Cox was among the Freedom Riders who went to the South in the early 1960s to protest segregation. He was on a bus that was attacked in Anniston, Ala., in 1961 by white men with clubs and bricks.
Speaking on a panel with fellow Freedom Riders Ed Blankenheim and Hank Thomas in 2003 at the University of Illinois in Urbana, Cox said he got off easier than his fellow panelists. But he said that as an African-American, discrimination had been a constant part of his life, ever since he first learned about it at age four.
"You're looking at a man who's an ordained minister, preaching since I was 17", Cox told his audience. "I'm 72. And since I realized what segregation was at the age of four, I have never had one day of total freedom in the land of the free and the home of the brave. I've either been discriminated against, or heard about it or listened to other confessions about it. But yet, I love America. As far as I'm concerned, it's the greatest country on earth. If you find one better, call me collect."
Ben Cox Jr. says his father spoke little about his role in the Freedom Rides and the civil rights movement. The younger Cox believes his father wanted to shield him from the darker things he'd experienced.
Cox spent his teen years in Kankakee and lived much of his adult life in Champaign-Urbana.
(Photos courtesy of codepinkhq/flickr)