In May 1961, despite two Supreme Court decisions that mandated the desegregation of interstate travel facilities, African-Americans faced violent hostility and racism while traveling through the South. Interstate bus companies such as Greyhound prohibited black and white passengers from sitting together on buses and in waiting rooms.
To challenge the Jim Crow laws that governed the Deep South, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organized a “Freedom Ride” consisting mostly of young college students. From May until November of 1961, a diverse group of more than 400 young people traveled together on buses and trains through the Deep South. Many were savagely beaten and jailed as they choose to respond to the bitter racism and mob violence with non-violent activism.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of those rides, a new documentary from “American Experience” airing Monday night on PBS follows 40 modern-day college students as they travel the same route as the original Freedom Rides to chronicle the courage and bravery of a group of young people who were determined to end segregation.
Helen Singleton and Joan Mulholland, both participants in the Freedom Rides of 50 years ago, sat down with Hari Sreenivasan to discuss how they became involved in the movement, the role of women in the Freedom Riders’ legacy and what they hope students traveling on the reenactment will learn about social activism and nonviolent protest.