Throughout the summer of 1961, more than 400 black and white young Americans traveled together on buses and trains throughout the Deep South, deliberately violating Jim Crow laws in an effort to overturn them. Led by Diane Nash, the Freedom Riders were a non-violent catalyst for major strides in the civil rights movement. At a White House screening of Stanley Nelson’s award winning film, Freedom Riders, Freedom Rider Diane Nash, author Ray Arsenault, John Seigenthaler, former assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and DC area Freedom Riders discussed their experiences and the legal issues involved. After the screening and panel, students attended a reception featuring remarks from NEH Chairman Jim Leach and Tom Susman of the American Bar Association.
Young college kids filled with so much bravery and courage…made out their last will and testaments and READY TO DIE!
Diane Judith Nash (born May 15, 1938) was a leader and strategist of the student wing of the 1960s Movement. A historian described her as: “…bright, focused, utterly fearless, with an unerring instinct for the correct tactical move at each increment of the crisis; as a leader, her instincts had been flawless, and she was the kind of person who pushed those around her to be at their best—that, or be gone from the movement.”
Nash’s campaigns were among the most successful of the era. Her efforts included the first successful civil rights campaign to de-segregate lunch counters (Nashville); the Freedom riders, who de-segregated interstate travel; founding the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); and the Selma Voting Rights Movement campaign, which resulted in African Americans getting the vote and political power throughout the South.
Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent movement to free India from British colonial rule inspired American civil rights activists who had immersed themselves in Gandhi’s teachings and viewed non-violence as an effective way to challenge the tyranny of the Jim Crow South.
The state of Mississippi’s plan to bankrupt CORE backfired when, on August 14, 1961, all but nine of the Freedom Riders returned to Jackson for their arraignment.
Freedom Riders: The Music
Group singing provided solace for Freedom Riders facing the constant threat of violence. It was also an effective political tool. “Without singing, we would have lost our sense of solidarity,” John Lewis says.
Buses Are A-Coming