Political and Social Movements

The Civil Rights Movement

What were the “freedom rides”?

The “freedom rides” were a series of bus rides designed to test the U.S. Supreme Court’s prohibition of segregation in interstate travel. In 1960, in the case of Boynton v. Virginia, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Howard University student who charged that segregation laws at the Richmond, Virginia, bus station violated federal antisegregation laws. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) decided to test the enforcement of the federal law by initiating the freedom rides. On May 4, 1961, 13 people, black and white, boarded a bus for the South. Meant as a nonviolent means of protest against local segregation laws, the riders were nevertheless met with violence: When the bus reached Montgomery, Alabama, on May 20, a white mob was waiting; the freedom riders were beaten. Rioting broke out in the city, and U.S. marshals were sent to restore order. The interracial campaign to desegregate transportation was ultimately successful, but government intervention was required to enforce the laws, as numerous southern whites had demonstrated that they weren’t going to comply voluntarily.


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