January 3, 2011

PBS invites college students to ‘get on the bus

News and Information

It wont be the same bus ride as those in 1961, but competition for seats — both back and front — is likely to be stiff.

As part of outreach for Freedom Riders, a new, two-hour documentary, PBS is sponsoring a re-enactment of the bus rides that helped break Jim Crow laws in the Deep South.

Members of the Washington Freedom Riders Committee hang signs outside a bus in Times Square in May 1961. They planned to picket the White House, demanding full civil rights for African Americans. | Photo courtesy of Corbis Images.

Members of the Washington Freedom Riders Committee hang signs outside a bus in Times Square in May 1961. They planned to picket the White House, demanding full civil rights for African Americans. | Photo courtesy of Corbis Images.

Scheduled for May 6 to 16, 2011, the ride will overlap with a 50th reunion of the Freedom Riders, approximately 430 people, mostly students, who spent almost six months taking 60 trips across the South, often harassed, often facing mob violence.

“The Freedom Riders nonviolent protest opened up the direct action phase of the civil rights movement that forever changed America,” said Mike Honey, a history professor at the UW Tacoma. He has compiled and edited Martin Luther King Jr.s labor speeches into new book, All Labor Has Dignity.

In spite of two U.S. Supreme Court decisions, transportation in the South had remained strictly segregated. Martin Luther King Jr. and his colleagues had fought such racism but without success until Freedom Riders boarded public buses. Klansmen burned the first bus, and at subsequent places, riders were beaten or thrown in jail or both. The bus rides got the attention of the Kennedy administration, which had ignored segregation in favor of other issues, and the Interstate Commerce Commission finally ruled that Jim Crow laws about transportation were illegal.

Freedom Riders, to be aired May 16 on the PBS series American Experience, is the work of Stanley Nelson, who also created Wounded Knee, Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple and The Murder of Emmett Till.

According to PBS, the re-enactment riders will be chosen partly on civic engagement and acquaintance with social media. According to Ethan Morris, a senior producer for KCTS public television in Seattle, PBS is planning to choose at least one student in the Seattle region.

Learn more about Freedom Riders, see a video trailer and register for the event online. Applications are due Jan. 17, 2011.