This Day in Black History: The Freedom Rides Began

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A Greyhound bus carrying Freedom Riders is firebombed

A Greyhound bus carrying Freedom Riders is firebombed

Despite two earlier Supreme Court decisions that mandated the desegregation of interstate travel facilities, black Americans in 1961 continued to endure hostility and racism while traveling through the South. The newly inaugurated Kennedy administration, embroiled in the Cold War and worried about the nuclear threat, did little to address domestic civil rights.

Organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the self-proclaimed “Freedom Riders” came from all strata of American society—black and white, young and old, male and female, Northern and Southern. They embarked on the Rides knowing the danger but firmly committed to the ideals of non-violent protest, aware that their actions could provoke a savage response but willing to put their lives on the line for the cause of justice.

Each time the Freedom Rides met violence and the campaign seemed doomed, new ways were found to sustain and even expand the movement. After Klansmen in Alabama set fire to the original Freedom Ride bus, student activists from Nashville organized a ride of their own. “We were past fear. If we were going to die, we were gonna die, but we can’t stop,” recalls Rider Joan Trumpauer-Mulholland. “If one person falls, others take their place.”

Later, Mississippi officials locked up more than 300 Riders in the notorious Parchman State Penitentiary. Rather than weaken the Riders’ resolve, the move only strengthened their determination. None of the obstacles placed in their path would weaken their commitment.

Read more about the Freedom Riders here.

Some Exhibits to Come – I Am Somebody! The Freedom Struggle

The Civil Rights Movement
• Changing the Laws
• Protest, Nonviolence, and Civil Disobedience
• Fighting for Economic Equity
• Freedom Riders
• Freedom Schools
• Arts & Culture

Black Power and Black Nationalism
• Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam
• The Black Panther Party
• Afrocentrism

Black Feminism