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Freedom Rides

freedom_riders_small.jpgIn the spring of 1961, the northern civil rights group CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) sent thirteen trained volunteers on a Freedom Ride through the South to test the Supreme Court's recent guarantee of the right to integrated travel on interstate buses. Each of the two buses was attacked by a white mob in separate incidents in Alabama. One bus was attacked and burned outside Anniston, Alabama, while in Birmingham a Ku Klux Klan posse severely beat the second bus's passengers when they arrived at the Trailways station there. Attorney General Robert Kennedy sent officials to evacuate the injured CORE riders.

Upon learning that the CORE riders were abandoning the Freedom Ride, students in Nashville who were part of SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) moved to continue the Freedom Rides, in consultation with CORE. Among the Nashville Freedom Riders were future Congressman John Lewis and Wisconsite Jim Zwerg, pictured above still bleeding after being beaten by a mob in Montgomery, Alabama. Despite the threat of mob violence, frequent arrests, and harsh prison conditions, hundreds of volunteers organized by CORE, SNCC and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) kept the Freedom Rides rolling throughout the summer months. If they weren't arrested in some small town along the way, they were sure to be arrested when they reached Jackson, Mississippi, often ending up in the infamous Mississippi State Penitentiary, also known as Parchman Farm.

The Freedom Rides served to draw national and international attention to segregation in the American South. In September 1961, the Interstate Commerce Commission finally issued orders enforcing desegregation of all interstate travel facilities. The orders took effect in November 1961, some six years after the ICC's own ruling in Keys v. Carolina Coach Company that this be done.

Learn more about the Freedom Rides and the history of the Civil Rights Movement at your Milwaukee Public Library.

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