Wednesday, May 04, 2011

50th Anniversary of the First Freedom Ride

50th Anniversary of the First Freedom Ride: New Documentary Recounts Historic 1961 Effort to Challenge Segregated Bus System in the Deep South

AMY GOODMAN: It was 50 years ago today, May 4th, 1961, when mixed groups of black and white students took two public buses from Washington, D.C., and intended to arrive in New Orleans two weeks later. They were risking their lives to challenge segregation. They called themselves the Freedom Riders.

President Obama has issued a proclamation honoring May 2011 as the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides and called on Americans to celebrate their struggle for equal rights during the civil rights movement.

Well, in December of 1960, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional segregation in public transportation and interstate bus and rail stations. But despite the ruling, Jim Crow travel laws remained in force throughout the South. Six months later, a dozen black and white students decided to challenge the local laws of the Deep South and test the commitment of the Kennedy administration to civil rights.

A new documentary by the award-winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson tells the story of what happened to these brave students over the next few days and weeks and how they inspired hundreds of others to join the Freedom Rides and eventually succeed in desegregating public transportation. The documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010. The documentary, called The Freedom Riders, will air on PBS’s American Experience on May 16th.

We turn right now to Stanley Nelson, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker, to talk about his film.

STANLEY NELSON: In 1961, 12 people, both black and white, decided that they would test the segregation laws of the South by simply getting on buses, Greyhound buses and Trailways buses, and going down south. And the white and black people would sit together at the front of the bus. They would eat together in the restaurants in the bus stations. The white people would use the colored-only restrooms, and the black people would use the white-only restrooms. And they would just see what would happen to them. And they had no police protection, no army protection, very little press when they started out, and they had no idea that it would really turn into this mass movement.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, there were—talk about the different Rides that went down and what happened to each.

STANLEY NELSON: Well, the first twelve people were beaten so badly in Anniston and Birmingham that they had to stop, they had to quit.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to a clip of Freedom Riders. more and 30 min video

No comments: