CIVIC CONVERSATIONS: A Conversation about Freedom Riders and Nonviolent Activism

Free and open to the public, this small-group discussion series encourages informed conversations around complex topics affecting Virginia. On the second Wednesday of each month, the Library will screen a segment from a documentary film, followed by a round-table conversation with input from a moderator and historical expert from the Library. Attendees are encouraged to share their perspectives with the group.

February 12’s event featured a screening from the film Freedom Riders and conversations around nonviolent activism during the struggle for racial justice. The Library of Virginia’s director of Public Services and Outreach, Gregg Kimball, moderated the discussion. For more information, contact Cindy Marks at

Potential Discussion Questions:

  • Are there certain circumstances under which nonviolent activism appears more effective than other forms of activism?
  • Are strong leadership and a long-term plan necessary for effective nonviolent activism or can a disparate group with the right mindset produce the necessary solidarity and resistance to create change?
  • Does activism always carry a component of an “us vs. them” perspective? Does nonviolent protest differ in this aspect from more violent activism?
  • Has there been a purely nonviolent approach that effected change or has societal transformation seemed to required both a nonviolent sector and a “big stick” aggressive sector?
  • Is it possible to have a respectful and yet violent response to disagreement? To oppression? Is nonviolence a given in respectful compromise?
  • Is violence necessary to “wake people up” or bring attention to a serious issue? What is the most effective way to build awareness?
  • Does the government have a responsibility to protect nonviolent activists? Do you think media/journalism sometimes offers protections?
  • During their time, freedom rides, though nonviolent, were seen as radical and confrontational. Many believed they would set back the movement of civil rights. Is being confrontational always seen as potentially damaging to a cause? Are there ideas like that today?


From the Library’s UncommonWealth Blog:

Violence In Danville: Preservation Of A Civil Rights Legacy

Web Pages:


Web Pages and Articles:

Films and Videos:

  • PBS Series “A Force More Powerful” by the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict. Main page with classroom and educational resources. Part 1 of the series on YouTube. Part 2 of the series on YouTube.
  • An Ordinary Hero documentary (currently on Amazon Prime)