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Freedom Riders


Film & Theme

The Power of the Individual: Freedom Riders

In the spring of 1961, the Freedom Rides brought together people of different races, religions, cultures, and economic backgrounds from across the country. Most were students in their late teens or twenties. Some traveled alone, others as part of a group unified by the single objective to challenge segregation in the former Confederate states. Many southern whites believed segregation was a fundamental part of their communities and reacted violently to any attempt to change it.

One of the major clashes between the Freedom Riders and supporters of segregation occurred outside Anniston, Alabama in May 1961. This clip shows the brutal confrontation that resulted when a white mob ambushed and burned the bus. The events are recounted by a variety of white and black eye witnesses who reveal several different perspectives.

Freedom Riders. Day 1. 20:00–29:00: Two buses of Freedom Riders travel through Alabama; Governor Patterson reacts to the Rides; Attack at the Anniston bus station.

Questions for class discussion

  • Recount the stages of the events in Anniston.
  • The film shows many whites who reacted violently but others—the young girl who brought water and the police officer who eventually stopped the confrontation —who did not. Why did so many white southerners react so violently to the Freedom Riders? Why did these other whites react differently?
  • Was the attack a success from the attackers’ point of view? From the Riders’ point of view?


For Teachers

Explore Created Equal in the Classroom:

- Equality Under the Law
- The Power of the Individual
- The Strategy of Nonviolence

Community Programs

The NEH Created Equal project uses the power of documentary films to encourage public conversations about the changing meanings of freedom and equality in America.

Changing America Exhibit

Find a "Changing America" exhibit in your community.