In 1961, a multiracial group of civil rights activists organized to fight back against racial segregation and hate across the South — this group of brave members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) became known as the “Freedom Riders.” Over seven months, the Freedom Riders traveled on interstate bus routes throughout the South to test the 1960 anti-segregation ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. The landmark decision, Boynton v. Virginia, declared that segregation of interstate travel passengers (like buses and facilities they use, like depots and restaurants) was illegal.
Over those seven months, the Freedom Riders were beaten, antagonized, arrested and, in one instance, nearly burned alive. Ultimately, the group was able to bring widespread attention to the violence used to enforce segregation and discriminatory policies in the South.
This national awareness led to real change, and while the Freedom Rides were making bigger headlines, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy successfully petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission to ban segregation on interstate buses and facilities, which took effect on November 1, 1961. But the movement carried on to make even bigger changes. Three years after the Freedom Riders risked their lives, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed by Congress. In it, Congress prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, prohibited discrimination in federally funded programs, desegregated schools and strengthened the enforcement of the voting rights act. The Act also outlawed segregation in all public spaces across the United States.
A Film in Their Honor
The movie Freedom Ride, is set to begin production by summer 2021. It will be directed by Deon Taylor, who will also serve as executive producer along with Benjamin Crump and Robert F. Smith. The film will be set in 1961, and will follow the determined activists who bravely journeyed by bus across the deep and segregated South.
This isn’t the first time Smith has worked to share Black history. Smith is involved with the podcast Black History in Two Minutes, which tells stories about important moments of Black history and uplifts Black changemakers. One of the people featured in the series is former U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights hero who was arrested for his activism with the Freedom Riders.
Lewis passed away in 2020, but his work left a blueprint for future generations to follow on how we get to a brighter, more equal future. On John Lewis, Deon Taylor said, “[Lewis’] words not only resonate with me as a human, but inspire me to tell his amazing story… We are going to create an amazing film and really do John Lewis proud.”
For more information about Freedom Ride, read the full story on the film in Deadline.