1961 May 4

Freedom Ride Begins, Challenges Segregation in Interstate Travel


Organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE, founded on March 9, 1942) and its director, James Farmer, the Freedom Ride began on this day to challenge racial segregation in interstate bus travel in the deep south. The Freedom Ride was one of the most dramatic events of the civil rights movement, generating headlines around the country and around the world. Thirteen people boarded buses in Washington, D.C., planning to travel through the south (including Alabama and Mississippi) and reach New Orleans on May 17th, the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. The Ride was marked by violence and assaults of individual Freedom Riders (see particularly May 14, 1961).

Because of the violence and fears that people would be killed, Freedom Ride leaders cancelled the last part of the Ride and flew to New Orleans. African-American college students in Nashville, Tennessee, who had been active in the sit-ins of 1960, led by Diane Nash, refused to retreat in the face of threats and continued the bus rides into Alabama and Mississippi. These rides continued for several more months and resulted in hundreds of arrests.

The 1961 Freedom Ride was inspired by an earlier freedom ride, the Journey of Reconciliation, which began on April 9, 1947, but was confined to the upper south. It resulted in some arrests but no violence.

Read: Raymond Arsenault, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (2006)

Watch a documentary on the Freedom Ride: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66_kqSG6aHI

Learn more about the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k–O8orWkmc

Read an oral history interview with CORE leader James Farmer: http://www.lbjlibrary.net/collections/oral-histories/farmer-james.html

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