The year was 1961.
For seven months, hundreds of Americans, both black and white, got on buses and risked their lives for change. As a result, many of these Freedom Riders, who were young college students, were beaten by angry mobs and placed behind bars.
The Freedom Rides, led by civil rights activist James Farmer, were protests against the Jim Crow laws that legalized racial segregation throughout the southern states. Although the demonstrations were nonviolent in nature, the riders were greeted by baseball bats, hammers, pitchforks and "all out war" in towns and cities where racism was rampant.
Fast forward fifty years and 40 current college students from around the country, picked from thousands of applicants, participated in a PBS-sponsored reenactment of the Freedom Rides. They joined some of the original 1961 Riders to make the trip from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans.
The first part of this video is an excerpt from the PBS' American Experience documentary on what happened when the original Freedom Rides bus pulled into Montgomery, Alabama. The second part is an interview with Democratic Congressman John Lewis from Georgia, one of the original 13 Riders, and Charles Reed from Jersey City, N.J., one of the modern student Riders.
"The mob came out and went straight to the reporters and started beating them and kicking them and throwing their cameras down, smashing them on the ground." -Bernard Lafayette Jr., Freedom Rider.
“And what really sticks with me were the women. They were screaming, ‘Kill them niggers.’ And they had babies in their arms.” -Catherine Burke Brooks, Freedom Rider.
“The police were standing there in their uniforms, just looking. They provided no protection for those students.” Sangernetta Gilbert Bush, witness.
1. What is segregation?
2. What were Jim Crow laws?
3. What happened during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s?
1. Why did hundreds of Americans risk their lives to become Freedom Riders?
2. What were the Freedom Riders trying to achieve?
3. How was the Freedom Rides an example of nonviolent protest?
4. How did the Civil Rights Movement change America?
5. Why did students want to reenact the Rides?
6. Why is it important to remember the Rides fifty years later?