Freedom Riders

Even though federal courts in 1960 had outlawed segregation on interstate travel, many Southern states simply ignored the rulings. A band of young men and women, many of them trained veterans of the sit-ins and other nonviolent protests, took it upon themselves to act. They began boarding buses in May 1961, pressuring the federal government to enforce existing laws. Uncertain of their fate, many had written their last letters to family and friends in case they were killed.

On May 14, near Anniston, Alabama, one of the buses was firebombed. Crowds mobbed another bus in Birmingham, badly beating many Freedom Riders, both black and white. While the initial Freedom Ride protest was called off, veterans of the Nashville sit-ins launched a new set of rides, despite the threat to their safety. They encountered hostile mobs again in Birmingham and Montgomery before ending their trip in Jackson, Mississippi, where they were arrested and transferred to the Parchman Farm Mississippi State Penitentiary.

Throughout the summer hundreds of new Freedom Riders descended upon Jackson, only to be arrested and sent to jail. Rather than break the spirit of the Freedom Riders, jail fortified their resolve and defiance. College students and other protestors from around the country continued to put themselves on the line and risk prison-or worse. As a result, the national media began to give the Freedom Riders more extensive and favorable coverage.

Meet the Freedom Riders