Freedom Riders

Expand/Collapse Freedom Riders


Learn about the Freedom Riders, a courageous band of African American and white civil rights activists who in 1961 rode together on buses throughout the American South to challenge segregation. These video segments document the events and accomplishments of the Freedom Rides, and introduce you to the real human stories of those who helped change our history.

  • The Governor

    In this video segment adapted from the American Experience "Freedom Riders" Web site, watch newsreel footage and interviews and see archival photos to explore one Southern politician's opposition to ending illegal discrimination and segregation against African Americans in the early 1960s. Alabama Governor John Patterson would not honor Attorney General Robert Kennedy's request to ensure the safety of the Freedom Riders, and even refused to take a phone call from President John Kennedy while white mobs were firebombing buses and beating civil rights activists in Patterson's home state. Years later, Patterson expressed his regret for not taking the president's call and for not doing "what should have been done".

    Grades: 6-12
  • The Student Leader

    In this video segment from the American Experience: "Freedom Riders" Web site, watch interviews and newsreel footage and see archival photos to learn about the early efforts of a prominent student leader of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Diane Nash, a young Chicago native, was attending Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, when she was introduced to nonviolent direct action. She quickly became an influential student activist through her leadership of sit-ins in Nashville, her participation in the Freedom Rides, and her role in founding the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Selma Campaign.

    This video includes language that is considered offensive. However, it provides authentic documentation of the bigotry of the era.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Freedom Riders: Fresh Troops

    In this video segment from the American Experience: "Freedom Riders" Web site, view newsreel footage, interviews, and archival photos to explore how students in Nashville, Tennessee, prepared for civil rights protests by training in the techniques of nonviolent direct action. This training prepared them for several initial efforts focused on the Nashville community and made them ideal reinforcements when attacks by white mobs decimated the ranks of the first Freedom Riders in 1961.

    Grades: 6-12
  • The Inspiration

    In this video segment from the American Experience: "Freedom Riders" Web site, watch interviews and newsreel footage and see archival photos to learn how Mahatma Gandhi, the leader in the struggle for an independent India, inspired and influenced those engaged in the struggle to end racial discrimination in the United States. Gandhi's use of nonviolence had allowed the people of India to win independence from Great Britain in 1947. While Gandhi declined an invitation from American civil rights leaders to become directly involved in the U.S. struggle for equal rights, his encouragement persuaded them that the tactic of nonviolence also held great potential in a struggle for the rights of a minority.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Freedom Riders Challenge Segregation

    In this video segment adapted from American Experience: "Freedom Riders," watch newsreel footage, archival photos, and interviews to explore how Freedom Riders made efforts to end the segregation of African Americans in the Southern United States. Even after the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that the segregation of black and white riders on interstate buses was unconstitutional, Southern states continued to enforce local segregation laws. In response, members of both races decided to force the issue and challenge illegal segregation by riding together in buses headed to the South.

    Grades: 6-12
  • The Young Witness

    In this video segment adapted from the American Experience: "Freedom Riders" Web site, watch interviews and newsreel footage and see archival photos to learn about the response of one young Southerner to her community's violent confrontation with the Freedom Riders in May 1961. Janie Forsyth, a 12-year-old girl living on the outskirts of Anniston, Alabama, was moved to assist injured Freedom Riders when their bus was firebombed outside her father's grocery store. Her action earned her the hostility of her community, which felt that violent resistance was required to preserve the existing segregated order.

    This video includes language that is considered offensive. However, it provides authentic documentation of the bigotry of the era.

    Grades: 6-12
  • The Tactic

    In this video segment adapted from American Experience: "Freedom Riders," watch interviews and newsreel footage and see archival photos to explore the tactic of nonviolent direct action that was adopted by some of those challenging illegal segregation and discrimination against African Americans in the United States in the early 1960s. An alternative to legislative and legal challenges, direct nonviolent actions—such as sit-ins, boycotts, and strikes—allowed for broader public participation and brought faster results.

    This video includes language that is considered offensive. However, it provides authentic documentation of the bigotry of the era.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Freedom Riders Create Change

    In this video segment adapted from American Experience: "Freedom Riders," view newsreel footage, archival photos, and interviews to explore how the Freedom Rides of 1961 brought about the end of racial segregation in interstate transportation. The Freedom Riders, aware that their nonviolent protest would elicit violence from some Southerners attempting to enforce local segregation laws, were determined to continue their protest even in the face of possible arrest. A series of events involving the U.S. attorney general, a U.S. senator, the governor of Mississippi, and a federal agency put an end to discriminatory practices in public transportation. This initial, unambiguous victory for the Civil Rights Movement paved the way for further progress.

    Grades: 6-12
  • The Exchange Student

    In this video segment from the American Experience: "Freedom Riders" Web site, watch newsreel footage and interviews and see archival photos to gain insight into the white college students who became active in the struggle for African Americans' civil rights. Jim Zwerg tells how he became one of the Freedom Riders, a decision that led to his estrangement from his parents and a beating at the hands of an Alabama mob.

    This video includes language that is considered offensive. However, it provides authentic documentation of the bigotry of the era.

    Grades: 6-12

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