The saga of the Freedom Rides is an empowering story of courage and commitment. During the first year of John F. Kennedy’s presidency, more than four hundred Americans participated in a dangerous experiment designed to awaken the nation’s conscience. Despite two US Supreme Court decisions mandating the desegregation of interstate travel, racial integration was forbidden by law and custom in much of the Deep South. Inspired by visions of social revolution, the self-proclaimed “Freedom Riders” challenged the mores of a racially segregated society by performing a disarmingly simple act— traveling together in small interracial groups, and sitting where they pleased on buses and trains. Demanding unrestricted access to terminal restaurants and waiting rooms, they were met with bitter racism, mob violence, and imprisonment along the way. But their courage and sacrifice over eight months in 1961 changed America forever.
This exhibition was created in partnership with WGBH Boston / The American Experience, which developed a major television special of the same name to be aired in spring 2011, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this seminal moment in civil rights history, in the summer of 1961.