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Review: Freedom Riders (PBS American Experience)

By Edited Jun 2, 2016 0 0

Pros

Interesting subject matter.

In depth interviews with people on all sides of the story.

A fascinating historical profile on an aspect of the Civil Rights movement that has not gotten as much recent press.

Cons

There are no cons.

Full Review

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The documentary Freedom Riders, which will air on PBS in May of 2011, is currently making the film festival circuit. I knew nothing about the film going into the screening-in fact, I had it confused with another film, and thought I was going to be watching something on another topic entirely-but from the very first moment, I was completely fascinated by the story this movie was telling.

The thing is: I do not remember learning about the Freedom Rides when I was learning about the Civil Rights movement in school. I remember learning all about Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, sit-ins at the lunch counters, and other well known aspects of the movement. But I don't remember hearing anything about 13 students getting on a bus in Washington DC to challenge a system that was not right, with the repercussions felt in the White House and beyond.

In case there are others out there who also do not remember hearing about the Freedom Rides, let me provide a bit of history. In December of 1960, the Supreme Court provided a ruling in the case of Boynton v. Virginia, which outlawed racial segregation in restaurants and waiting rooms of terminals that served buses that crossed state lines. Despite the ruling, many of the states in the Deep South refused to enforce it, and the Jim Crow standards remained in effect. Which brings us to the Freedom Rides.

In May of 1961, a group of 13 students, seven black and six white, representing a group called Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), embarked on what was supposed to be a 14-day journey through the south to challenge the states refusals to follow the Federal law. If they had any problems, they hoped that they would force the federal government to take a stand for the cause of Civil Rights.

Before they left, they practiced peaceful protests and standing their ground. They carefully planned their route from Washington DC to New Orleans, Louisiana, through Alabama and Mississippi, the two states most intent on keeping the status quo in place. They expected to be intimidated and arrested, and when they left on the morning of May 5th, they thought they were prepared for what was to come.

They weren't. Not even close.

Without going into too many details, as the story told in this film builds quickly and dramatically and should be appreciated for that, what happened next was a story that transfixed not only the United States, but the rest of the world. The actions of those 13 students, getting on those two buses that day, fundamentally changed race relations in this country, and marked a major step forward for the Civil Rights movement.

Perhaps what was most striking and memorable about this film, however, were the interviews. Not only were the original Freedom Riders allowed to tell their own story, but the filmmaker was able to talk to former Alabama Governor John Patterson, in charge at the time the Freedom Riders arrived in his state, as well as John Seigenthaler, an assistant to the Kennedy administration, who was able to provide rare insight into the White House's view on the Civil Rights movement.

This was a moving film, a must see, that provides key insights into a truly important moment in the United States' Civil Rights movement.

In Closing

Array
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