Freedom Rides

by Tiffany Nguyen and Sarah Northcutt

What are Freedom Rides?

The Freedom Rides are a series of political protests against segregation by blacks and whites who rode buses together through the American South in 1961. They attempted to enforce new federal desegregation travel laws mandated by the Supreme Court in Boynton v. Virginia and was initiated by the Congress of Racial Equality.

The Freedom Rides succeeded in securing a ban on segregation in all transportation facilities and on May 4, 1961, 7 African Americans and 6 whites rode on two buses from Washington D.C. to New Orleans.

Challenges Faced by Freedom Riders

Burning Buses

The journey towards desegregation was not easy. On May 14, one bus was firebombed and the Freedom Riders were beaten when the bus stopped outside of Anniston, Alabama to change a slashed tire. The second bus was similarly attacked and the passengers were beaten in Birmingham, Alabama. Although they were discouraged, a second group of new freedom riders, originating in Nashville and partly organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, renewed the effort. However, they were arrested in Birmingham and transported back to Tennessee. They tried to return to Birmingham and travel to Montgomery, but they were beaten again when local police failed to protect them.

Relation to "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee

Montgomery Bus Boycott

The book, To Kill a Mockingbird, was written around the time of the Civil Rights Era. The story’s setting, Alabama, played a big part during this time period, especially through the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The arrest of a woman named Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat for a white man, sparked this boycott. Members of Montgomery's black community protested this act by forming the Montgomery Improvement Association, a group that created a community wide boycott in order to push for the idea of integration on buses and around the city. This group was lead by Martin Luther King Jr., and the members (both black and white) suffered harassment and threats for more than a year trying to make its way to court. Then, on November 13, 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court deemed the system of segregation unconstitutional.


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"Montgomery Bus Boycott." Montgomery Bus Boycott. Civil Rights Digital Library, n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2015. <>.

Walsh, Robert. "Freedom Rides (1961)." Encyclopedia of the Sixties: A Decade of Culture and Counterculture. Ed. James S. Baugess and Abbe Allen DeBolt. Vol. 1. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2012. 227-229. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 21 Apr. 2015