In May 1961, a group of Black and white men and women left Washington, DC on two public buses. The group was traveling to states in the south to test the United States Supreme Court decision that “segregation in interstate bus and rail stations was unconstitutional.”
The bus trip was organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). The trip was the beginning of what became known as the Freedom Rides.
During the trip, white people in the group sat in the back of the buses. Black people in the group sat in the front. At rest stops the white riders went into the “Black-only” areas and Black riders went into the “white-only” areas.
While traveling through the northern part of the south the Freedom Riders did not have any problems. However, things changed when they reached what is considered the deep south.
In Anniston, Alabama one of the buses was met by a mob of angry white people. The mob threw rocks at the bus and slashed the tires. The driver was able to drive away but when he stopped to change tires the bus was firebombed.
Riders on the second bus were approached by an angry crowd of white people in Birmingham, Alabama. Many of the Freedom Riders were beaten and some pretty badly.
Even though there was violence the Freedom Riders got a lot of support. Others joined the group and the Freedom Rides continued through the summer. More than 300 Riders were arrested and spent much of the summer in jails in the south.
The Freedom Riders never made it to New Orleans, which was their original goal. In the end that didn’t matter because the Rides became known and talked about around the country. They even got the attention of the White House and President Kennedy. Because of all the attention, the Freedom Riders could not be ignored. They forced President Kennedy to deal what what the Riders were trying to accomplish and talk about civil rights in the country.
The Freedom Rides also led to a an important ruling by the Interstate Commerce Commission. The commission made segregation in interstate bus travel illegal. The ruling was a win for the Freedom Riders and Black Americans.