What are the Freedom Riders?

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  • Written By: Haven Esme
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 24 September 2019
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During the 1960’s, several key pieces of legislation were implemented to end racial segregation. The laws determined that segregation was illegal in restaurants and waiting rooms located in bus terminals that crossed state lines. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that it was illegal to discriminate or segregate passengers in bus terminals that crossed state lines because it violated interstate commerce laws. The Freedom Riders wanted to ensure that the legislation was being properly implemented and adopted by the transportation industry throughout the south. To validate the legislation, the riders rode throughout the southern United States.

Despite efforts by the United States Supreme Court to end segregation throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Jim Crow laws still governed many Southern based transportation companies. Many of these companies still attempted to enforce segregation among passengers. The Freedom Riders attempted to enforce federal laws through protesting and boycotts. The Freedom Riders play a pivotal role in civil rights history and were able to transform the civil rights movement through their boycotts.


When the Freedom Riders initially started their campaign in North Carolina and Virginia, they faced little opposition. As their campaign went further into the South, the hostility increased. It was in South Carolina that the beatings begin. Some Freedom buses were set ablaze by angry Southerners, while other Southerners sought to protect them. Unfortunately, the Freedom Riders were often met with violence. Unfortunately, the local police and authorities often refused to intervene. Although the riders were met with obstinate resistance and violence, they chose to adopt a nonviolent strategy.

Numerous photographers and journalists who created reports about the Freedom Riders for an international audience captured the initial backlash against the Riders. The various news reports inspired hundreds of other Americans to create more Freedom Rides throughout the Deep South. Eventually, the Freedom Rides grew in popularity and diversity.

The Freedom Riders were a remarkably diverse group of people. They consisted of clergymen from various denominations, teachers, students, novelists, military members, and individuals from numerous other backgrounds. Although they ranged in age, many of the riders were students. One Freedom Ride that took place through Jackson, Mississippi was called "the Prayer Pilgrimage" and was composed entirely of Episcopal ministers. The riders consisted of black and white Americans who had a strong desire to end segregation and discrimination.


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why did this happen?

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