After Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, laws were passed that said that whites and blacks could ride together on any bus traveling through more than one state. But throughout the South, this practice was still not allowed. So white volunteers began riding with black people to test this law and challenge those who refused to abide by it. These volunteers were called Freedom Riders.
- On Mother’s Day of 1961, angry mobs surrounded a Greyhound bus in rural Alabama. On the bus, white and black passengers rode together. The mob began pelting the bus with bricks and rocks and using sticks and axes to break windows. After someone through a firebomb through a window in the bus, the mobs blocked the doors so the people couldn’t get off. The fuel tank caught on fire and the bus would soon explode, forcing the mob back and allowing the passengers to flee. The mob beat them as they got off the bus.
- A few hours later, white and black passengers were beaten until they were bloody as they got off buses in other parts of Alabama.
- As news of the attacks spread through the country, more than 400 people volunteered as Freedom Riders. They risked arrest, beatings, and even death, but they thought their cause was important enough to risk their lives. Most of the riders were college students. Many of them came from religious backgrounds or were civil rights workers. Half were black and a quarter of the group were women.
- Many of the Freedom Riders were arrested and sent to jail. In Florida, a group of 300 people spent more than three weeks in jail under terrible conditions.
- Today, most of the Freedom Riders are in their 70s or 80s. Many of them went on to become teachers, preachers, college professors, lawyers, and politicians. Many of them are still active in civil and social justice. They believe in speaking up for what they think is right.
Watch a short video about the Freedom Riders.