Stanley Nelson’s exceptional documentary tells the story of the Freedom Rides, from their initiation in May 1961, by James Farmer and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), to the Interstate Commerce Commission’s (ICC) ruling that September, that passengers on interstate buses could sit wherever they wanted, “the first unambiguous victory in the long history of the civil rights movement.” Freedom Riders—airing on PBS on 7 February—offers some incredible images from the period to show how this victory was the result of months of struggle, including assaults on the freedom riders by angry citizens as well as police officers. Boarding commercial buses (Trailways and Greyhound) in Washington, DC and intending to ride through the Deep South, the riders set out deliberately to violate Southern segregation laws. Each CORE member signed a formal agreement, stating, “I understand that I shall be participating in a nonviolent protest… against racial discrimination, that arrest or personal injury to me might result.” They had little expectation of the violence that would be inflicted on them.
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