Freedom Riders: Risking Lives, Promoting Civil Rights

Traveling exhibit chronicles the 1961 Freedom Rides. The participants had a simple but daring plan: to board buses to test and challenge segregated facilities in the South.

Alma College will host the national traveling exhibition “Freedom Riders,” which looks at six months in 1961 when more than 400 Americans — old and young, black and white, men and women, Northern and Southern — risked their lives to challenge segregated facilities in the South.

Burning bus image. Credit: CorbisBurning bus image. Credit: CorbisThe exhibit is a companion to the May 2011 PBS broadcast of the American Experience film “Freedom Riders,” directed by Stanley Nelson. It will be displayed on a rotating basis in the Tyler-Van Dusen Rotunda, Dow Science Center lobby and Remick Heritage Center from Jan. 5 through 23.

Admission is free and open to the public.

The exhibit combines photography and news coverage of the 1961 Freedom Rides and examines the movement from many perspectives — that of the Riders, the Kennedy administration and the international community. To enhance the experience, visitors can use their cell phones to access first-hand audio accounts of the experiment in the fight for civil rights.

The Freedom Riders had a simple but daring plan: to board buses in small interracial groups to test and challenge segregated facilities in the South. Many of the Freedom Riders endured beatings, humiliation and imprisonment, but ultimately, their actions and commitment to nonviolence changed American forever.

“The exhibit explores a little-known chapter in civil rights history and explains how the selfless actions of the Freedom Riders laid the groundwork for some of the most important civil rights legislation in our nation’s history,” says Erica Shekell, an Alma College staff member who participated in the 2011 reenactment of the Freedom Rides.

“The 1961 Freedom Rides are an inspiring example of what ordinary individuals can accomplish,” says Shekell, who will discuss her experience at 2 p.m. Monday, Jan. 19 in the Remick Heritage Center. “The actions and the bravery of the Freedom Riders provide invaluable lessons for anyone who hopes to make a difference in our nation and world.”

The exhibit, on loan from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, was created with support from the American Experience, PBS and the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Story published on December 05, 2014