On May 16, 2011, PBS aired a special on the Freedom Riders in recognition of their 50th anniversary. Hearing the name Freedom Riders I automatically want to call them Freedom Fighters. I truly believe that their struggle was more of a fight than a ride through southern states that at the time still enforced segregation amongst the public bus system, public facilities, etc. These black and WHITE Americans, experienced brutality at the hand of ignorant white Americans that none of us living in 2011 will ever be able to understand.
Being supporters and members of the Congress of Racial Equality Organization, these ambitious Americans risked their lives in an effort to change racists laws and views in the Deep South. Their courageous acts eventually changed American society as we know it.
Check out their chain of events below:
—May 4-8, 1961: Thirteen Freedom Riders leave Washington, DC in two separate buses. Their goal is to test and challenge segregated travel facilities throughout the South.
—May 9-13, 1961: Entering the Deep South, the Freedom Rides begin to meet strong resistance. Riders are arrested in Charlotte, North Carolina and attacked in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Reaching Atlanta on May 13, the Riders meet with Martin Luther King Jr.
—May 14, 1961: After leaving Georgia, one of the buses is firebombed outside the small town of Anniston, Alabama. The second bus makes it to Birmingham, only to face a vicious Ku Klux Klan mob aided by the local police. Many Freedom Riders are brutally beaten.
—May 15-18, 1961: Forced to complete their journey to New Orleans by plane under the protection of the Kennedy Administration, CORE Riders decide to end the Freedom Rides. Members of Nashville Student Movement step in as “fresh troops.”
—May 19-23, 1961: In Montgomery, Riders and 1500 supporters are trapped inside the First Baptist Church by an angry mob. Following heated negotiations, federal troops are dispatched to protect the Riders.
—May 24, 1961: Finally leaving Alabama, the Riders enter Mississippi, where they are arrested for “their own protection.” Jails become the new destination for Riders who continue to descend on Jackson through the summer of 1961.
The events that begin during the Freedom Ride Movement and didn’t end until the civil rights movement, were the most horrific and shameful that any one race had to endure. Americans should have some level of disgrace that some of our ancestors participated in the brutality of people who were only fighting to make sure we were ALL treated equally. However, the best way to appreciate something is to work hard to achieve it.
Although our country will more than likely never be rid of racism as a whole, we have advanced our laws to protect the equal treatment for all Americans. I applaud the people who took part in this movement. Being a black American female, without their struggle, I would not be able to enjoy my American life as well as witness the day that our country would elect a black President. I challenge each of you to make an effort to educate our youth to know and appreciate this history. With this knowledge, they will definitely have more of an appreciation of their life and will work hard to enjoy it in a positive light.
Let’s not ignore a portion of our American history that is somewhat disgraceful, but embrace it and congratulate those that risked their lives to make our country great.
Check out full details about the Freedom Riders and watch the PBS special here: