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How Did the Freedom Riders Change Society?

Updated on December 5, 2017
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Author Cheryl is an 9 time published author. She has dedicated her life to healthcare and raising awareness of abuse and mental health.

Battleing Segregation in the South

Who Were the Freedom Riders

Freedom Riders were groups of Blacks and White activist who took on a protest in the South that the enforcement of segregation laws would be upheld. The Southern states had ignored the rulings of the Supreme Court and the federal government and did nothing to enforce them.

The Freedom Riders challenged this status quo by riding interstate buses in the South in mixed racial groups to challenge local laws or customs that enforced segregation in seating. The Freedom Rides, and the violent reactions they provoked, bolstered the credibility of the American Civil Rights Movement. They called national attention to the disregard for the federal law and the local violence used to enforce segregation in the southern United States. Police arrested riders for trespassing, unlawful assembly and violating state and local Jim Crows Laws, along with other alleged offenses, but they often first let white mobs attack them without intervention

The Pain of Segregation in the South

Freedom Riders Then and Now

On Sunday, May 14, 1961 (Mother’s Day) scores of angry white people blocked a Greyhound bus carrying black and white passengers through rural Alabama. The attackers pelted the vehicle with rocks and bricks, slashed tires, smashed windows with pipes and axes and lobbed a firebomb through a broken window. As smoke and flames filled the bus, the mob barricaded the door. “Burn them alive,” somebody cried out. An exploding fuel tank and warning shots from arriving state troopers forced the rabble back and allowed the riders to escape the inferno. Even then some were pummeled with baseball bats as they fled.

Most of the riders were college students; many, such as the Episcopal clergymen and contingents of Yale divinity students, had religious affiliations. Some were active in civil rights groups like the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which initiated the Freedom Rides and was founded in 1942 on Mahatma Gandhi’s principle of nonviolent protest. The goal of the rides, CORE director James Farmer said as he launched the campaign, was “to create a crisis so that the federal government would be compelled to enforce the law.”

The volunteers, from 40 states, received training in nonviolence tactics. Those who could not refrain from striking back when pushed, hit, spit on or doused with liquids while racial epithets rang in their ears were rejected. (Smithsonian)

If they could not get past the stressful training without lashing out, they were thought to be useless. Many wanted to go but few chosen from each race black and white.



Many Were Arrested

Arresting Them did not Stop Them

May 23, 1961: Civil rights leaders James Farmer, John Lewis, Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King Jr. announced at a news conference in Montgomery, Alabama, that the Freedom Rides would continue. Lewis was wearing bandages from the beating he received in Montgomery, Alabama.

May 24, 1961: Twenty-seven Freedom Riders, headed for New Orleans, were arrested as soon as they arrived in the bus station in Jackson, Mississippi. Many of the riders were sentenced to two months inside Mississippi’s worst prison, Parchman. Within a few months, police arrested more than 400 Freedom Riders. Eric Etheridge features portraits of the Riders (then and now) in his book, Breach of Peace. Their journeys are captured in Raymond Arsenault’s book, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice, and Stanley Nelson’s documentary, Freedom Riders. (The Ledger)

They didn't care about the punishment, they were there to do a job and with or without law enforcements help, they were going to see it happen.

In 2011 a bus of Freedom Riders embarked on another trip to Mississippi only this time they were escorted in by the police. Some 50 years later how much had it all changed.

Some of the riders, mainly in their 60s and 70s now, went on to become leaders of the civil rights movement. Others became teachers, lawyers, preachers and social workers. Many remain politically active, maintaining a cheerful optimism that grassroots action can achieve change and still bound by their time in Parchman.


AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Freedom Riders: The Strategy

How Freedom Riders Changed Society

We all know racism still exist. There are still White Supremist and Black Panthers. Each group rallying racial hate. There are Hispanic gangs, White gangs, Black gangs of which still commit murders and are well known for hate. I am glad I was not born when everyone was segregated.

I believe that we will always see racism and not just white and black racism. All races are being attacked in one way or another. You would think in 2017 that the nonsense that goes on in the deep south would not be happening.

The Freedom Riders did achieve what they set out to do even if it cost them their lives, pain or incarceration. They were black and white students alike representing f one cause.

As time has gone by we have seen women black and white were allowed to vote. Change in desegregating schools, bathrooms, buses, restaurants and many other reasons that blacks and whites were segregated. Slavery has been gone for over 300 years but the struggle to make people stop being racist lies within family teachings.

No one is born to hate. It is taught. If we continue to teach hate, hate will continue. Teach your children to love everyone. They may one day need the help of someone who is not their race. Teach respect, love, morals and for them to have good character.

JFK Helped With Desegregation

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    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      15 months ago

      I admire them and the efforts they took to make a difference in our world today. I am more informed and inspired to stand for what is right.

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