Freedom Riders

In 1961, segregation seemed to have an overwhelming grip on American society. Many states violently enforced the policy, while the federal government, under the Kennedy administration, remained indifferent, preoccupied with matters abroad. That is, until an integrated band of college students—many of whom were the first in their families to attend a university—decided, en masse, to risk everything and buy a ticket on a Greyhound bus bound for the Deep South.

They called themselves the Freedom Riders, and they managed to bring the president and the entire American public face to face with the challenge of correcting civil-rights inequities that plagued the nation.


Diane NashBy 1961, Diane Nash had emerged as one of the most respected student leaders of the sit-in movement in Nashville, Tennessee. Nash attended Howard University before transferring to Nashville's Fisk University in the fall of 1959. Shocked by the extent of segregation she encountered in Tennessee, she was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in April 1960.

In February 1961 she served jail time in solidarity with the "Rock Hill Nine"—nine students imprisoned after a lunch counter sit-in. When the students learned of the bus burnings in Alabama, Nash argued that it was their duty to continue.

"It was clear to me that if we allowed the Freedom Ride to stop at that point, just after so much violence had been inflicted, the message would have been sent that all you have to do to stop a nonviolent campaign is inflict massive violence," says Nash in Freedom Riders.


About Freedom Riders (The documentary)
May 14, 1961

This inspirational documentary is the first feature-length film about this courageous band of civil-rights activists. Gaining impressive access to influential figures on both sides of the issue, Nelson chronicles a chapter of American history that stands as an astonishing testament to the accomplishment of youth and what can result from the incredible combination of personal conviction and the courage to organize against all odds.


Watch the Freedom Riders Trailer

Bring Freedom Riders to Your School,
Group or Organization

Freedom Riders
Request a copy of the Freedom Riders DVD and Study Guide
WQPT is working with area schools to provide a copy of the DVD and a study guide for use in the classroom. To ensure your school is included, please contact WQPT at 309/764-2400.

1. Select a day and time for viewing (School or group must secure their own venue)
2. WQPT can assist you in identifying local and regional keynote speakers (speaker fees may apply).
3. Download and complete the post event form and return to WQPT no more than one week following the event.

Featured Image

Diane Nash, center, leads a group of students in song during a protest in front of the Nashville, Tennessee, police station in 1961. The students were protesting alleged police brutality during the sit-in protests of the city's segregated lunch counters.

Featured Image
Nash, front center, informs the city court in Nashville in 1960 that students arrested during the sit-ins would refuse to pay the fines levied against them as a matter of "moral principle."
Featured Image
College students Matthew Walker, left, Peggy Alexander, Nash and Stanley Hemphill eat lunch at a previously segregated lunch counter shortly after the sit-ins forced the city of Nashville to integrate in 1960.

Freedom Riders Resources
Freedom Riders Democracy
in Action—Study Guide

The film Freedom Riders is a valuable resource for teaching about democracy, civil rights, and US history. It reveals the way that racism was reinforced by law and custom and explores the challenges faced by people who sought to create a more just society.

Freedom Riders on American Experience
From May until November 1961, more than 400 black and white Americans risked their lives—and many endured savage beatings and imprisonment—for simply traveling together on buses and trains as they journeyed through the Deep South.

Facing History
Facing History empowers teachers and students to think critically about history and to understand the impact of their choices.

Eyes on the Prize on American Experience
Eyes on the Prize is an award-winning 14-hour television series produced by Blackside and narrated by Julian Bond. Through contemporary interviews and historical footage, the series covers all of the major events of the civil rights movement from 1954-1985.

Teacher's Domain
Teachers' Domain is a free digital media service for educational use from public broadcasting and its partners. You'll find thousands of media resources, support materials, and tools for classroom lessons, individualized learning programs, and teacher professional learning communities.