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Freedom Rides Map

  • Freedom Rides Map, 1961
  • Freedom Rides Map, 1961
  • Freedom Rides Map, 1961
This map depicts the Freedom Rides that took place during the civil rights movement and several incidences of violence that occurred.
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Freedom Rides Map, 1961

This background map, created for syndication in newspapers, shows the routes of the Freedom Rides of 1961 and several of the incidences of violence that the Freedom Riders encountered. The Freedom Rides were part of a direct action campaign that took place in the first year of John F. Kennedy's presidency. After the Supreme Court's 1960 Boynton v. Virginia decision that nonwhites could not be denied service in interstate transportation terminals, the Congress of Racial Equality decided to test the decision. On May 4, 1961, the first thirteen Freedom Riders began traveling together by bus from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans. During their journeys, they sat where they wanted on buses and trains and insisted on being allowed unrestricted access to segregated terminals and restaurants. This group, empowered by two recent United States Supreme Court rulings that interstate travel was to be desegregated, eventually grew to more than four hundred people, who were trained and recruited by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a national civil rights organization. Throughout the summer, several other groups of Freedom Riders, including members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), took part in the experiment by taking other rides throughout the Deep South.

The Freedom Riders knew that they would encounter violence and opposition along their way. By taking a nonviolent approach to the civil rights struggle, they were challenging federal officials to uphold the Supreme Court rulings. Many of the Freedom Riders were beaten, their buses were burned, and they were arrested for causing social disorder. The Freedom Riders used these struggles to strengthen their movement in an attempt to gain federal support for the civil rights cause. The Kennedy administration's goal was to avoid violence during the Freedom Rides, yet federal support could have been provided for the riders in states like Mississippi where they encountered the greatest amount of violence. Since the Jim Crow South had not seen a nonviolent direct action campaign of this magnitude before, however, the federal government feared the social disorder that could be caused by giving the riders protection. The Kennedy administration worked more behind the scenes with white segregationists during the Freedom Rides than with the civil rights organizations, as officials feared public backlash.

Most white southerners and many people across the nation believed the Freedom Rides were too radical and provocative to bring about any real change. The participants faced negative press coverage, which described them as dangerous radicals who were idealistic and naive in their goals. Many editorials in white newspapers even equated the Freedom Rides to a communist movement because the riders were perceived as a foreign group—northerners “invading” the segregated South. Despite a negative initial public reaction, the Freedom Riders continued their struggle and found strength in the opposition that they faced.

The Freedom Rides are often seen as an introductory step toward the more dramatic civil rights events of the late 1960s. The Freedom Rides showed the then-internationally focused federal government the hypocrisy of promoting freedom abroad while there was discrimination in the United States. They also signaled the start of a new era of civil rights activism, led by groups like CORE and SNCC instead of the NAACP. The efforts of the Freedom Riders helped other nonviolent, direct action campaigns to evolve from the Freedom Riders efforts into those that would advance the movement as a whole throughout the next decade.

For Educators


1. What were the Freedom Rides?

2. Who participated in the Freedom Rides?

3. How were the Freedom Rides portrayed by the media?

4. Were the Freedom Rides successful?

Further Discussion

1. The Freedom Rides marked just the beginning of a decade of efforts, large and small, to gain equal rights for African Americans. Many other direct action campaigns were organized by CORE, SNCC, and other civil rights organizations throughout the 1960s. Research some of these campaigns. How can they be compared to the Freedom Rides? Did they have similar leaders, participants, and tactics? How successful were the other campaigns in comparison to the Freedom Rides?


The Freedom Riders were typically thought to be only white northerners, either college students or religious leaders. While many did fit this description, the group was actually very diverse. Six of the original thirteen Freedom Riders were African American and were raised in the South.


Library of Congress Bibliographic Information-Freedom Rides Map

Library of Congress: African American Odyssey: Reconstruction and Its Aftermath

Suggested Reading

Arsenault, Raymond. Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice. Oxford, Eng.; New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Dittmer, John. Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. Urbana: The University of Illinois Press, 1994.

Mailed from New York Feb. 5. For Use in PMs of Thursday, Feb. 8 and Thereafter.
(Map is 3 cols. by 4 inches)
AP Newsfeatures Writer
 Last year's freedom rides traveled a highway cobbled with blood and violence. What has come of the troubled journey? Will there be more?
 Scores were injured in attempts to integrate Southern bus terminals. Hundreds were jailed. But, some nine months later, a growing number of terminals have been desegregated.
 Asst. Atty. Gen. Burke Marshall said in Washington last week:
 “The problem of segregation in bus and rail terminals is largely behind us as a nation and as a region. I have no doubt that where there is a problem—which there is in a few cities in Mississippi and a few in Louisiana—we are going to resolve the problem. But I'm really quite hopeful were going to be able to clean up that problem without litigation.”
 The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which organized the freedom rides, reports its teams have recently been served in 85 terminals across the South. These tests followed the ruling by the Interstate Commerce Commission last Nov. 1 forbidding segregation in interstate bus and rail stations.
 Marshall said eight or nine communities in Mississippi and less than eight in Louisiana have not fully complied with the order. He also said he expects desegregation of airport terminals to be aided by a federal court injunction against segregated air facilities in Montgomery, Ala.
 CORE was a catalyst for much of the recent public ferment over the issue.
 James Farmer, national director of CORE, said the organization plans to continue freedom rides this year along major U.S. highways similar to a campaign that, with CORE help, desegregated many of the restaurants and lunch counters on Rt. 40 between Washington and Philadelphia. Farmer said CORE is particularly concerned with Rt. 66 which runs from St. Louis through the Southwest. The organization will also press a campaign for more hiring of Negroes in department stores, many of which CORE claims discriminated in employment.
 Farmer said CORE was pleased with the efforts of the Justice Department in seeking compliance to desegregation rulings but disappointed with its speed in securing compliance.
 Whate is CORE, and how did it start?
 It started in 1942 at the University of Chicago. Since then it has followed a course of Gandhian nonviolence that has often led to violence as it staged wade-ins at swimming areas, sit-ins at lunch counters, stand-ins at movie theaters, even shoe-ins at shoe shine stands.
 Farmer formed the organization oat Chicago with several students after they had been discussing discrimination. What would happen in Negroes simply refused to buy from white stores? If they went in and just sat down at restaurants that refused to serve them?
 As Farmer recalls it the group, some of them Negro, adjourned to a local restaurant, the Jack Spratt, to mull things over with a cup of coffee. But Jack Spratt wouldn't take their money, throwing it into the street. So on the spur of the moment they decided to “sit in.” Jack Spratt eventually integrated, says Farmer. CORE was on its way.
 Today CORE headquarters in New York City claims 62 local organizations with about 50 members in each. Farmer says it has 40,000 contributors who are expected to donate $750,000 for the year ending this May. Five years ago CORE collected but $26,000.
 The local CORE groups are self-supporting as much as possible and can embark on their own freedom rides without a green light from headquarters in New York City. If they get

Involved in police and legal complications, the parent organization sends funds and lawyers.
 Would-be members serve a one to three-month probationary period, Farmer explained, during which they must participate in two “action” projects, such as sit-ins, bus ride or picketing.
 CORE is leery of extending membership to off-beat types One goateed man who wore shorts and sandals was told he'd either have to shave the beard and wear conservative dress or give up CORE. True to his beard, he gave up CORE.
 Farmer describes CORE's approach to a discriminatory situation as fivefold. First there is an investigation to determine whether discrimination exists, then an effort is made to talk the store or restaurant owner or whatever out of it. Failing that, CORE tries to get his minister, for instance, to talk him out of it.
 If this is fruitless, CORE pickets and distributes literature and, finally, resorts to sit-ins, stand-ins, etc.
 If some member is fined, CORE will not, as a rule, pay it unless there are special circumstances. CORE would prefer persons arrested go to jail rather than their paying their own fines. If it's $30 or 30 days, take 30 days.
 The first Freedom ride occurred in April, 1947 in the wake of a Supreme Court decision forbidding segregated seating on buses in interstate travel. Eight persons were jailed and four others arrested but later released in the trip through Virginia and North Carolina.
 Then on Dec. 5, 1960 the Court ruled against segregated facilities in interstate bus terminals. This decision came in the so-called Boynton Case and the freedom rides of 1961 were made to test its effectiveness.
 The first ride, on April 22, was from East St.Louis, Ill., to Sikeston, Mo. Twenty-two persons were arrested at Sikeston but charges were dismissed (see map).
 On May 4 a freedom ride bus travelling from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans was burned near Anniston, Ala.
 There were riots in Birmingham, Ala., which recurred on another ride two weeks later, spreading to Montgomery. On May 20 Atty. Gen. Robert Kennedy sent 400 federal marshals to Montgomery. For a time Alabama Gov. John Patterson threatened to arrest any marshal who interfered but none was.
 On May 24, a troup of Nashville students arrived in the Mississippi state capital at Jackson to test segregation. About 306 were jailed as volunteers poured into the city, including a son-in-law of New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller.
 On June 13 four rabbis, seven white and seven Negro ministers staged a freedom ride from Washington to Tallahassee, Fla. Ten were jailed in Tallahassee after they were refused service at an airport restaurant. After they were tried, the restaurant agreed to desegregate its lunch counter and was closed down by the city.
 There was another ride July 8 from St.Louis to Shreveport, La., in which four persons were jailed at Little Rock, Ark.
 Then, on Aug. 2, a group of freedom riders took a bus from Newark, N.J. to Little Rock. For the first time there was no violence, no arrests.
 Other rides (see map) into the deep South brought renewed violence in the fall, particularly at McComb, Miss. Since the Nov. 1 ICC ruling, CORE members have been riding across the South, compiling a growing list of terminals that have desegregated.
 These are all noted at New York headquarters, a musty suite of rooms near the Wall Street area.
 There Farmer directs CORE's operation from his office. On the wall is a large watercolor done by a youth sentenced to a road gang as a sit-in. Also on the wall is a framed certificate of arrest from Hinds County, Miss., certifying that Farmer, not one to let others do all the work, had been an inmate during the rides.