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.
WQPT SPECIAL GUEST: Diane Nash
By 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)
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.