In 1961, during the first year of John F. Kennedy's presidency, more than 400 Americans participated in a dangerous experiment designed to awaken the conscience of a complacent nation. The Riders' plan was deceptively simple: traveling together in small interracial groups, they sat where they pleased on buses and trains, terminal restaurants and waiting rooms. They did so knowing that their actions would almost certainly prompt a violent direct action – many endured savage beatings and imprisonment. Invoking the philosophy of nonviolent direct action, they willingly put their bodies on the line for the cause of racial justice.

But issues of race – then, as now – are rarely simple. -- Freedom Riders Study Guide, Facing History and Ourselves.


Reenacting the Freedom Rides with Twitter
Students at the Mountain Heights Academy created a Twitter reenactment of the Freedom Rides. First Tweets began on May 5, 2011.

What is TwHistory?
What is TwHistory? This short video explains what TwHistory is and how you can participate in or create virtual historical reenactments.
The Film

American Experience: Freedom Riders
This film tells the story of civil rights activists called "Freedom Riders" which took brave actions to dismantle the structures of discrimination through nonviolence.

Utah's Freedom Riders
This PBS Utah documentary highlights the contributions many Utahns have made to the Civil Rights movement.
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Background Information

Wikipedia: Freedom Rides
Learn about the Freedom Rides from Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia.
National Youth Summit: Freedom Rides
This website includes a recorded webcast of members of the 1961 Freedom Rides discussing their experiences in the movement and a teachers guide.
Recollections by David Fankhauser
David was arrested in Jackson, Mississippi during the Freedom Rides. Here is an onlne collection of his memories of the event.
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Essential Questions
  • Why did people join the Freedom Rides?
  • When prejudice and racism are supported by both custom and law, what can be done to create a more inclusive society? How do you explain why there is often so much resistance to change?
  • How does nonviolent direct action expose injustice? Why was it such an effective strategy for bringing about change during the civil rights movement?
  • What role did the media play in the Freedom Rides? How to media shape our understanding of the issues of our time?
  • What does the story of the Freedom Rides suggest about the role of citizens in shaping democracy?
  • Who were the Freedom Riders?
Democracy in Action: A Study Guide
This guide supports educators and students in their use of the documentary "American Experience: Freedom Riders"..

JFK, Freedom Riders, and the Civil Rights Movement
Students learn how civil rights activists, state & local officials, and the Administration of President Kennedy come into conflict during the early 1960s.

We Are The Freedom Riders
Students will explore the power of group singing in the civil rights movement.

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Support Materials

Teaching Tolerance Resources
Browse the resources recommended by the Teaching Tolerance staff.
Freedom Rides Quotes (pdf)
These quotes can be used as classroom discussion starters.
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Videos in eMedia

Utah educators and students can download the following videos from UEN's eMedia.

Great American Authors. 1950-1957
If the lost generation authors were searching for identity and meaning, the group of authors in this program rejected everything about mainstream America.
Great American Authors. 1958-Present
This generation of writers witnessed and participated in WWII, The Korean War, The Cold War, The Civil Rights movement, and Vietnam.
American Experience. Murder of Emmett Till
The murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till, a black boy who whistled at a white woman in a Mississippi grocery store in 1955, was a powerful catalyst for the civil rights movement.
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