FREEDOM RIDERS is the powerful and ultimately inspirational story of six months in 1961 that changed America forever. From May until November 1961, more than 400 black and white Americans risked their lives- and many endured savage beatings and imprisonment- for simply traveling together on buses and trains as they journeyed through the deep South. Deliberately violating Jim Crow laws, the Freedom Riders met with bitter racism and mob violence along the way, testing their belief in nonviolent activism.
From award-winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson (Wounded Knee, Jonestown:The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, The Murder of Emmett Till) FREEDOM RIDERS features testimony from a fascinating cast of central characters:the Riders themselves, state and federal government officials, and journalists who witnessed the Rides firsthand. The two-hour documentary is based on Raymond Arsenault’s book Freedom Riders:1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice.
I got up one morning in May and I said to my folks at home,I won’t be back today because I’m a Freedom Rider. It was like a wave or a wind that you didn’t know where it was coming from or where it was going, but you knew you were supposed to be there___ Pauline Knight-Ofuso, Freedom Rider
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.
“It became clear that the civil rights leaders had to do something desperate, something dramatic to get Kennedy’s attention. That was the idea behind the Freedom Rides- to dare the Federal government to do what it was supposed to do, and see if their constitutional rights would be protected by the Kennedy administration,” explains Arsenault.
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.