This May 2011 marks the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides. May 4, 1961 was the first day the Freedom Rides took place. Thirteen young people, both black and white, set out from Washington, D.C. on two buses headed to New Orleans. The buses never made it to their destination. The riders on both buses were met with extreme violence from individuals who didn’t support integration and didn’t want to see travel facilities desegregated throughout the South (something the Freedom Riders had set out to challenge). The riders were eventually stranded in Birmingham, Alabama because they couldn’t find another driver to continue the trip.
A new wave of Freedom Riders from Nashville stepped in to try and finish what the first Riders had started. Hundreds of Riders participated in the protests. Eventually, on September 22, 1961, bus and rail segregation were officially ended by the Interstate Commerce Commission.
There’s no question this is a big and important anniversary. Oprah recently did a special focusing on the Freedom Riders.
PBS also produced and aired a program on the Freedom Riders that you can watch in its entirety here.
Finally, for a first-hand account of what it was like to be a Freedom Rider, check out this CNN article on Freedom Rider, James Zwerg.