50 Years of Freedom Celebrated by Freedom Riders Reenactment

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From May through November 1961, more than 400 black and white Americans risked their lives by simply traveling together on buses and trains as they sojourned through the Deep South.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of their journey—the Freedom Rides. Kicking off in Washington, D.C., at the Newseum, the 2011 Student Freedom Ride departed May 8 and is rolling through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and into Louisiana, stopping along the way at historically significant locations. I caught up with the 40 Student Freedom Riders and five of the original Riders—Joan Mulholland, Rip Patton, Robert and Helen Singleton and Charles Person—at the Downtown Public Library in Nashville, Tenn., last week.

Part celebration and part education, the 2011 Freedom Rides re-enact history. Even as Student Riders watch documentaries, read books, make public appearances on “Oprah” and contribute to news coverage, they learn that there remains much to be told about the men and women who risked it all so that we could enjoy the freedom to travel as we please. In 2011, it’s hard to imagine their struggle, courage and commitment....

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