Over the summer of 1961, 329 people from across the country, both black and white, boarded buses and headed south. The Freedom Rides set out to test federal law banning segregation in bus and train terminals across the South.
After facing violence in Alabama, Jackson, Mississippi became the end of the line. From May to September, activists flooded into town. They came by bus and by airplane. Each in turn was arrested and photographed. The notorious Mississippi State Penitentiary, known locally as Parchman Farm, housed the Freedom Riders. Governor Ross Barnett told the prison warden to “break their spirits not their bones.” Most of them served their time in prison and returned to ordinary lives.
Many of the Freedom Riders became leading figures in the Movement. Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) later became president of SNCC and a leading voice in the Black Power Movement. John Lewis served as president of SNCC and currently represents Georgia’s 5th district in the U.S. House of Representatives. One of the few southern white women involved, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, spends her time traveling the country, continuing to tell the story of the Movement. Hundreds of other young people also took part in this historic movement.
This past week on our social media pages, we have featured a few of the brave Freedom Riders indicating how they’ve advanced since the summer in 1961. The Mississippi Civil Rights Project features more oral histories of Freedom Riders. If you were or know of someone who participated in the Freedom Rides, we invite you to say your/their name or share your/their story here.