The Freedom Riders originally consisted of a group of 13 activists who fought for civil rights and against the segregation in interstate bus terminals in the American South. The Congress of Racial Equality originally recruited the group of Freedom Riders and they departed from Washington D.C., attempting to make use of “whites-only” (and vice versa) facilities along the route towards the deep South. Although the Freedom riders were met with very violent treatment from white protesters en route, they managed to gain a lot of international attention. The group grew and hundreds more Freedom Riders joined in their cause, with similar protests. The Interstate Commerce Commission prohibited segregation in train- and bus stations across the country in September, 1961.

The First Freedom Ride

The first Freedom Ride started on May 4, 1961. A group of 13 riders, of which six white and seven black, left Washington DC on two buses (Greyhound and Trailways). They were planning to drive through the south, ending the route in New Orléans. Their tactics were to have at least one black and one white person in adjoining seats, one black person in the front, “whites only” sets and the rest on seats throughout the bus. One rider would stick to the rules in order to avoid arrest, so he can contact CORE to organize bail. They would also try to use the “wrong” restrooms at stops on the way. The group was however met with heavy resistance from Ku Klux Klansmen who attacked one of the buses on May 14. They slashed its tires, firebombed it and kept the doors shut to try to burn the riders to death. Luckily the riders managed to escape the bus when either the fuel tank exploded or shots went off, but they were caught up with and badly beaten. The riders were hospitalized and attempted to continue their journey, but after further violence they were forced to cut the trip short. This, however didn’t stop other freedom riders to follow their example.