I was 14 years old in 1961, a sophmore in high school. At that time I lived in an all white upper class suburb of Chicago called Arlington Heights. I am not sure if I had seen a single black person close up. I do remember the events that led up to the Civil Rights bill. The Freedom Riders were a major ingredient to the eventual passage of the Civil Rights bill a few years later. These folks were on our TV sets often.
Get On the Bus:
The Freedom Riders of 1961
In 1961, the Freedom Riders set out for the Deep South to defy Jim Crow laws and call for change. They were met by hatred and violence — and local police often refused to intervene. But the Riders’ efforts transformed the civil rights movement.
Raymond Arsenault is the author of Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (Pivotal Moments in American History)
. The book details how volunteers — both black and white — traveled to Mississippi and Alabama to fight segregation in transit systems.
Despite being backed by recent federal rulings that it was unconstitutional to segregate bus riders, the Freedom Riders met with obstinate resistance — as in Birmingham and Montgomery, where white supremacists attacked bus depots themselves.
In Freedom Riders, Arsenault details how the first Freedom Rides developed, from the personal level to the legal maneuvering involved. His narrative touches on elements from the jails of Alabama to the Kennedy White House.
Arsenault is the John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History and co-director of the Florida Studies Program at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg. His previous writing includes Land of Sunshine,State of Dreams: A Social History of Modern Florida and Crucible of Liberty: 200 Years of the Bill of Rights, which he edited.