Watch the full episode. See more American Experience.

Premiering on May 16th on PBS.

Tomorrow Oprah will host Congressman John Lewis as part of the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Rides.

Rep. John Lewis Commemorates
50th Anniversary of Freedom Rides on OPRAH

Tomorrow May 4, 2011 at 4 PM ET, Rep. John Lewis will be prominently featured in an OPRAH Show broadcast celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides. On May 4, 1961, 13 Freedom Riders– seven black people including a 21-year-old John Lewis, and six whites–left Washington, DC headed to New Orleans, Louisiana. The rides were developed by the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) led by James Farmer, whose childhood as an orator people came to know through the recent movie The Great Debaters.

In 1961, it was illegal in most Southern states for blacks and whites to sit next to each other on a public bus. The Montgomery Bus Boycott ended segregation in Montgomery in 1955, but it was still the law in major cities throughout the South. Actually, the boycott as well as the sit-ins in Greensboro and Nashville had the reverse affect outside Montgomery, making segregationists more determined than ever to violently resist any effort to integrate.

The purpose of the Freedom Rides was to put a Supreme Court decision to the test which desegregated interstate transportation. The rides were an extremely dangerous undertaking, requiring non-violent protestors to be seated in an integrated fashion on a public bus and ride through segregated territory. Through Virginia and North Carolina, they experienced relatively little resistance. But in Rock Hill, South Carolina Lewis himself and Albert Bigelow were attacked and beaten. Later, the bus was set on fire in Anniston, Alabama, riders were surrounded by an angry mob of thousands during a mass meeting at Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s church in Montgomery, and they were jailed in Jackson, Mississippi. “

The Freedom Rides,” said Rep. John Lewis,” took the struggle for civil rights and social justice out of the major cities and brought it into the small towns of the rural South. Though some of us had to shed a little blood, the Freedom Rides ended segregation in public transportation in America. Today you cannot find those signs that said WHITE WAITING and COLORED WAITING except in a museum, on a video or in a book.”

Also, PBS will be premiering a Golden Globe award-winning film about this history, simply called FREEDOM RIDES, produced by Stanley Nelson and broadcast on its impressive documentary series, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE during the next week in May. Check your local listings for times of these broadcasts. ####

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One Response to Would you have gotten on the bus?

  1. EGaluszka says:

    Too much.

    The magic bus.