Freedom Riders - 2011

The year 2011 will mark the 50 year anniversary of the Freedom Rides. From May to December 1961, over 400 mostly young Americans risked their lives and freedom to challenge the Jim Crow travel laws that remained in force throughout the South, even though Boynton v. Virginia had outlawed racial segregation in interstate travel. The Freedom Riders were committed to non-violent action, yet faced savage beatings, angry mobs, and imprisonment on their journeys.

The courage of the Freedom Riders in facing such dangers inspired many people in the north and south to become involved in the Civil Rights movement. Notable Freedom Riders include Congressman John Lewis, Stokely Carmichael, James Peck, and Jim Farmer.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, WGBH Boston's American Experience has produced the documentary Freedom Riders—based on an award-winning book by Raymond Arsenault, PhD, the John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History at USF St. Petersburg. The director of the film is Stanley Nelson, a 2002 MacArthur Fellow known for groundbreaking historical documentaries. Nelson won a Primetime Emmy in Best Direction, nonfiction, for his film, The Murder of Emmett Till, which was broadcast nationally on PBS and reopened the investigation of Till's murder.

Traveling Down Freedom's Main Line: The Freedom Rides at 50

These public events will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Rides and honor the amazing riders through original commissioned performance pieces by Neighborhood Writing Alliance, Congo Square Theatre, and Young Chicago Authors. These new works are inspired by the documentary film "Freedom Riders" by Stanley Nelson.  Based on the award-winning book Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice, the film focuses on the campaign that went on to inspire a movement.

Plus, Afro-soul singer Ugochi and local singers and songwriters Ami Saraiya and Anna Soltys will grace us with live performances of  traditional and contemporary freedom songs.



Freedom Riders Screenings and Discussions:

  • Chicago - Friday April 8, 2011, 9:30 (CPS students)
  • Chicago - Saturday April 9, 2011 (main public screening and discussion)
  • East St. Louis - Friday April 1, 2011
  • Carbondale - Saturday April 2, 2011


    Lead partner for the Freedom Riders series is PBS's American Experience.

    The funders for the Freedom Riders series are The Field Foundation of Illinois, and The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, with additional travel support provided by Southwest Airlines.

    Co-sponsors for the series are: WBEZ-Chicago, DuSable Museum of African-American History, Neighborhood Writing Alliance, Free Street Theatre, Congo Square Theatre, Young Chicago Authors, Chicago Freedom School, Center for the Study of Race Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago, Woodson Regional Library, The Foundation for Homan Square, The African-American Museum of Southern Illinois, WSIU, Varsity Center for the Arts, Freedom Trails Legacies of Hope