ATLANTA - Freedom Riders, the powerful, harrowing and ultimately inspirational story of six months in 1961 that changed
Freedom Riders features a fascinating cast of central characters: the Riders themselves, state and federal government officials, and journalists who witnessed the rides firsthand. The film is produced, written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson.
Despite two earlier Supreme Court decisions that mandated the desegregation of interstate travel facilities, black Americans in 1961 continued to endure hostility and racism
while traveling through the South. The newly inaugurated Kennedy administration, embroiled in the Cold War and worried about the nuclear threat, did little to address domestic civil rights.
"It became clear that the civil rights leaders had to do something desperate, something dramatic to get Kennedy's attention. That was the idea behind the Freedom Rides: to dare the federal government to do what it was supposed to do, and see if their constitutional rights would be protected by the Kennedy administration," explains Raymond Arsenault, author of Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice, on which the film is partially based.
The self-proclaimed "Freedom Riders" came from all strata of American society: black and white, young and old, northern and southern. They embarked on the rides know the danger but firmly committed to the ideals of non-violent protest, aware that their actions could provoke a savage response but willing to put their lives on the line for justice.
"The Freedom Ride created an unbelievable sense: Yes, we will make it. Yes, we will survive. And that nothing, but nothing, was going to stop this movement," recalls Congressman John Lewis, one of the original Freedom Riders.