Violating Segregation Laws (03:53)
The Congress of Racial Equality organized black and white citizens to board commercial buses in the Deep South. Riders wanted to trigger a national movement. See archival footage of white southern citizens discussing Jim Crow laws.
Southern Way of Life (03:18)
African Americans sitting together on a bus threatened white Southerners. Separate public facilities demonstrated inferiority. Affluent white children did not see the reality of racism and were afraid of change.
1961: United States (06:28)
After John F. Kennedy was elected, citizens expected civil rights improvements. The administration focused on the Cold War and viewed civil rights as a nuisance. CORE formulated the Freedom Rides as a way to elevate the organization and generate publicity.
May 4, 1961: Washington, D.C.: Day 1 (05:22)
The Freedom Riders felt good about boarding the bus. Irene Morgan refused to give up her seat on a bus in Gloucester County in 1944. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned the leadership the Alabama Ku Klux Klan was preparing a welcome.
May 14, 1961: Atlanta, Georgia: Day 11: Burned Greyhound Bus (09:47)
Only one group of Freedom Riders arrived at Birmingham. In Anniston, the Ku Klux Klan attacked the Greyhound bus, puncturing tires, breaking windows, and causing the fuel tank to explode. A highway patrolman stopped the violence by firing his gun into the air.
May 14, 1961: Atlanta, Georgia: Day 11: Trailways Bus (08:31)
The Birmingham Police Department and Bull Connor allow the Alabama Klan to attack the Freedom Riders. News reports erupted about the violence. President Kennedy wanted the bus rides to end because he was preparing for a summit with Nikita Krushchev.
May 15, 1961: Birmingham, Alabama: Day 12 (07:51)
James Peck proposed the Freedom Riders continue, but there were no drivers. After a bomb scare, they were trapped in an airport. John Seigenthaler helped them reach New Orleans; state police officers verbally attacked the Freedom Riders.
May 16th, 1961: Nashville, Tennessee, Day 13 (08:29)
Fisk and Tennessee State University students dropped out of school during final exams to continue the Freedom Ride. White people treated African Americans like vicious animals. Jim Zwerg believed he would receive the most violence.
May 17th, 1961: Birmingham, Alabama: Day 14 (09:48)
Bull Connor had officers cover all windows so the media could not photograph the Freedom Riders; he later arrested them. Bobby Kennedy convinced the president to speak to the governor. Jimmy Hoffa refused to allow his bus drivers to transport the Freedom Riders; Seigenthaler forced Patterson to act.
May 20th, 1961: Montgomery, Alabama: Day 17 (07:39)
Floyd Mann ordered state troopers to follow the bus. The Montgomery riots erupted at the bus station; police watched the violence. The Kennedys felt betrayed and called in Federal Marshals.
May 21, 1961: Montgomery, Alabama: Day 18 (10:55)
Members of the Civil Rights Movement called a meeting with Jim Farmer, Fred Shuttlesworth, and Dr. King. Riots erupted outside the First Baptist Church. Patterson declared martial law.
May 23, 1961: Montgomery, Alabama: Day 20 (03:55)
Freedom Riders were sequestered at Dr. Harris' house and urged Dr. King to join the movement. King declined and compared himself to Jesus Christ; the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee began calling him "De Lawd."
May 24, 1961: Jackson, Mississippi: Day 21 (08:25)
The Kennedy Administration provided protection so the Freedom Riders could safely leave Montgomery. Governor Ross Barnett expected the group to obey laws and declared there would be no violence in the state. The story gained worldwide media coverage.
Parchman Prison (07:34)
The Freedom Riders agreed to enter jail and remain for 60 days. Ten religious leaders were arrested in Jackson.
Ending Segregation (08:45)
Bobby Kennedy asked the Interstate Commerce Commission for a sweeping desegregation order and called for a cooling-off process. The Freedom Riders intensified efforts for civil rights. Over 300 Freedom Riders went to Parchman Prison.
Credits: Freedom Riders (02:25)
Credits: Freedom Riders
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