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Buses Are A-Coming!
The Freedom Riders Return to Jackson

“Buses Are A-Coming” is a Freedom Song created like so many others: composed in the heat of moment — in this instance in a Jackson, Mississippi, jail cell.

Freedom Rider Bernard LaFayette Jr., who rode on the first bus into Jackson, describes its genesis in Stanley Nelson’s forthcoming PBS documentary on the Rides:

We made up a song saying that buses are a-coming. And we sang it to the jailers to tell them, and warn them, to get ready, to be prepared, that we were not the only ones coming. So we started singing, [singing] “Buses are a-comin’, oh, yes, buses are a–comin’, oh, yes, buses are a-comin’, buses are a-comin’, buses are a-comin’, oh, yes.

And we say to the jailers, [singing] “Better get you ready, oh, yes.” The jailers say, “Alright, shut up on the singing and hollering in here! This is not no playhouse. This is a jailhouse.” So we said to ourselves, “What are you going to do? Put us in jail?”

This particular recording of “Buses” features the renowned singer Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, in concert with the Flint Community Schools Title One Choir and Verse Chorus.

In 1961, the year of the Rides, Dr. Reagon, then a college student in Albany, Georgia, joined the movement and witnessed firsthand what she calls “the power of song.”

As a singer and activist in the Albany Movement, I sang and heard the freedom songs and saw them pull together sections of the Black community at times when other means of communication were ineffective. It was the first time that I knew the power of song to be an instrument for the articulation of our community concerns.

Ever since, Dr. Reagon has been exploring and exploiting the power of song.