Foundation News

Charles Person: Civil Rights Freedom Rider to Honorary Firefighter

Charles Person: Civil Rights Freedom Rider to Honorary Firefighter

Charles Person - Honorary Fire Chief

In the first chapter of Charles Person’s memoir, Buses Are a Comin’: Memoir of a Freedom Rider, he describes visiting Atlanta’s Fire Station 6 as a child in the 1950s and sitting in the firefighters’ chairs with his friends. He wrote, “No black firemen existed in Atlanta when T.C., Felix, and I sat in those chairs. But we loved to watch. And dream…I tried to dream about being an Atlanta fireman. My dream seemed impossible. I told my dream to Mom. She embraced my dream and did not share my opinion.” He quotes his mom as saying, “You can do anything you want to do, Charles. Anything.”

And in fact, Mr. Person’s dream of becoming a firefighter came true at the age of 81 on November 3, 2023, when he was promoted to honorary fire chief of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department at a recognition ceremony. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s CEO Victor Stagnaro was humbled to present Charles Person with a custom helmet and a challenge coin. As he pointed out to Mr. Person during this meaningful celebration, “In your book, you tell us the chairs in this firehouse where you visited as a little boy were forbidden for men who looked like you. Today, they are assembled to honor you.”

Mr. Person went on to become a civil rights leader when he joined the Freedom Rides of 1961 as the youngest Freedom Rider. He then devoted his life to justice, equality, and nonviolent protest. He faced adversity and danger in the name of civil rights and demonstrated a profound understanding of the power of unity and solidarity. His involvement in the Freedom Rides and his unwavering commitment to nonviolent protest continue to inspire generations.

Mr. Person’s actions during the Freedom Rides remain a beacon of hope, reminding us of the impact one person can have when they embody the spirit of service, sacrifice, and courage.

Learn more about Mr. Person and the Freedom Ride in his own words: