The Freedom Riders defined courage in ways not yet seen in this country.
It was 1961. A group of civil-rights activists boarded buses for the Deep South. They demanded change in laws that basically since the founding of the Republic had sanctioned discrimination against African-Americans. They dared the federal government to enact laws to change that history.
They faced prosecution and even persecution for their actions. They staged sit-ins, they marched along city streets, they shouted down local authorities demanding the change that would result in landmark civil rights legislation.
American Experience is broadcasting a special Tuesday night on Panhandle PBS that tells the Freedom Riders’ story.
“Freedom Riders” chronicles the courage of the young activists who ventured into the Deep South to demand change.
American Experience is one of those acclaimed series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, Mass. It tells the American story — the good and the bad — and tells us how that story has brought us to the present day.
The Freedom Riders personified courage. They knew they would be beaten, bloodied — even killed — because they stood firm on their principles of equality for all Americans.
They would succeed ultimately. Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson spoke to the need to enact change. Kennedy didn’t live to see civil rights legislation become law. The final push would come from LBJ, the rangy Texan who knew the political risks associated with pushing civil rights legislation. The Deep South, which had been fervently Democratic, would turn eventually against LBJ and his fellow Democrats, which Johnson knew would happen.
It was the right thing to do, he said.
Besides, young Americans had the courage to ride on behalf of freedom for their fellow Americans. Panhandle PBS will broadcast that story at 8 p.m. Tuesday.