Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movement


Freedom Riders compares and contrasts the childhoods of John Lewis and James Zwerg in a way that helps young readers understand the segregated experience of our nation's past. It shows how a common interest in justice created the convergent path that enabled these young men to meet as Freedom Riders on a bus journey south.

No other book on the Freedom Riders has used such a personal perspective. These two young men, empowered by their successes in the Nashville student movement,...

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Freedom Riders compares and contrasts the childhoods of John Lewis and James Zwerg in a way that helps young readers understand the segregated experience of our nation's past. It shows how a common interest in justice created the convergent path that enabled these young men to meet as Freedom Riders on a bus journey south.

No other book on the Freedom Riders has used such a personal perspective. These two young men, empowered by their successes in the Nashville student movement, were among those who volunteered to continue the Freedom Rides after violence in Anniston, Alabama, left the original bus in flames with the riders injured and in retreat. Lewis and Zwerg joined the cause knowing their own fate could be equally harsh, if not worse. The journey they shared as freedom riders through the Deep South changed not only their own lives but our nation's history.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
This short, oversized book tells the story of the Freedom Rides into the Deep South in the early 1960s based on the experiences of a young white man and a young black man. Jim Zwerg grew up in white, middle-class, midwest America. John Lewis grew up in the poor, segregated rural South. The two men met in 1961 in Nashville, Tennessee where college students were protesting local segregation. Lewis and Zwerg joined in the freedom bus rides to challenge segregation. White mobs viciously beat both men, Zwerg especially so. But the violence that was intended to discourage the freedom riders led to eventual success. The writing, often awkward, needs a bit of polish, but black-and-white photographs and supplementary information on the Civil Rights movement enhance the story. 2006, National Geographic Society, Ages 8 to 12.
—Michael L. Cooper
Children's Literature - Meredith Kiger
This excellent retelling of the early days of the Civil Rights Movement, in particular the events surrounding the Freedom Rides of May, 1961, leaves little to the imagination. The author does an admirable job of setting the historical stage for young readers through her use of period black-and-white photos and descriptions of the separate worlds of blacks and whites in the 1950s and 60s. The detailed biographies of John Lewis and Jim Zwerg, who eventually became Freedom Riders, sets the stage for their involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and their lasting friendship. Students of today need reminding of the struggles that earned them their freedoms today, and Mr. Lewis and Mr. Zwerg's story should stand as a reminder that people of courage need to stand up for the rights of others as well as themselves. Seeing the actual photos of those difficult times in American history should inspire teachers, as well, to use history as inspiration for change. It is a fascinating, well-researched account that illustrates that the courage and actions of even young people can make a difference. An interesting time line, partial roster of freedom riders, resources for further study, and extensive bibliography are included.
According to Jim Zwerg, "I'm nothing special. I'm a dentist's kid from Wisconsin who happened to get on a bus with some friends who got the hell beat out of him." Zwerg and Lewis are expertly compared and contrasted throughout the piece as their completely different backgrounds come together in what is known as the Freedom Riders in 1961. Although Bausum leaves no stone unturned, she points out that the movement did not actually begin in 1961. "As far back as the nineteenth century, African Americans had challenged segregated seating on public transportation." Lewis and Zwerg met in Nashville where workshops were first held to contest segregated lunch counters and movie theatres. Up-close photographs of burning buses and beaten and bruised bodies, precise research, and plenty of quoted text from the Freedom Riders themselves catapult this story well off the page and long into readers' memories. Included at the end is a partial roster of the riders with their experiences and many with accompanying mug shot as they were jailed. A time line, thorough notes, and resources for further reading complete the text. It is a must-purchase for school and public libraries, especially because of the wider look at segregation during this time and the close attention to those who played pivotal roles in enforcing the law of the land that ruled against segregated seating during interstate travel. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P J (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2006, National Geographic, 79p.; Index. Illus. Photos. Charts. Biblio. Source Notes. Chronology. Appendix., Ages 12 to 15.
—Kelly Czarnecki
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9-The incredible courage and determination of young people, black, white, male and female, who risked great personal danger and even death as they participated in the freedom rides during the Civil Rights Movement are the focus of this remarkable book. History is told through the experiences of two young men of disparate backgrounds, one black-John Lewis, the other white-Jim Zwerg. A foreword by each man precedes chapters that compare and contrast their families, childhoods, and teenage years, and the events leading up to, and their participation in, the historic rides of the early 1960s. Dramatic black-and-white photographs, accompanied by clear, engaging captions, support the text. Each of the seven chapters is preceded by a full-page photograph. Bausum's narrative style, fresh, engrossing, and at times heart-stopping, brings the story of the turbulent and often violent dismantling of segregated travel alive in vivid detail. The language, presentation of material, and pacing will draw readers in and keep them captivated. Final chapters reveal the paths Lewis's and Zwerg's lives took after the end of the rides, and both men reflect back on that period. A partial roster of riders with brief profiles, an illustrated time line of key moments in the Civil Rights Movement, a resource guide and notes, and a list of further reading conclude the book. A definite first purchase.-Mary N. Oluonye, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780792241737
  • Publisher: National Geographic Society
  • Publication date: 12/27/2005
  • Pages: 80
  • Sales rank: 443,567
  • Age range: 10 - 13 Years
  • Lexile: 1090L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.92 (w) x 11.18 (h) x 0.46 (d)

Meet the Author

Ann Bausum lives in Beloit, WI. Her most recent book with National Geographic, With Courage & Cloth: Winning the Fight for a Woman's Right to Vote, was given the 2005 Jane Addams Award, among many other honors.
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