Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice / Edition 1by Raymond Arsenault
Pub. Date: 02/19/2007
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
They were black and white, young and old, men and women. In the spring and summer of 1961, they put their lives on the line, riding buses through the American South to challenge segregation in interstate transport. Their story is one of the most celebrated episodes of the civil rights movement, yet a full-length history has never been written until now. In these
They were black and white, young and old, men and women. In the spring and summer of 1961, they put their lives on the line, riding buses through the American South to challenge segregation in interstate transport. Their story is one of the most celebrated episodes of the civil rights movement, yet a full-length history has never been written until now. In these pages, acclaimed historian Raymond Arsenault provides a gripping account of six pivotal months that jolted the consciousness of America.
The Freedom Riders were greeted with hostility, fear, and violence. They were jailed and beaten, their buses stoned and firebombed. In Alabama, police stood idly by as racist thugs battered them. When Martin Luther King met the Riders in Montgomery, a raging mob besieged them in a church. Arsenault recreates these moments with heart-stopping immediacy. His tightly braided narrative reaches from the White Housewhere the Kennedys were just awakening to the moral power of the civil rights struggleto the cells of Mississippi's infamous Parchman Prison, where Riders tormented their jailers with rousing freedom anthems. Along the way, he offers vivid portraits of dynamic figures such as James Farmer, Diane Nash, John Lewis, and Fred Shuttlesworth, recapturing the drama of an improbable, almost unbelievable saga of heroic sacrifice and unexpected triumph.
The Riders were widely criticized as reckless provocateurs, or "outside agitators." But indelible images of their courage, broadcast to the world by a newly awakened press, galvanized the movement for racial justice across the nation. Freedom Riders is a stunning achievement, a masterpiece of storytelling that will stand alongside the finest works on the history of civil rights.
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Arsenault has written an extremely detailed and researched account of the events surrounding the Freedom Riders in May 1961 through the end of that year. His narrative is gripping as he takes us through the gut-wrenching episodes of each of the earlier rides that culminated in the firstormed bus in Anniston and the violence of Bull Connors in Birmingham. Most outstanding is his chronological order of events that gives us details of the moment-by-moment happenings, but also of the subsequent complex legal proceedings that follow. Although tedious in their specifics, each of the riders' experiences are nonetheless compelling and revealing on so many levels. He exposes the hypocrisy of the white supremicists involved as well as the internal foibles that menanced the leadership of the Civil Rights Activists. He provides detailed data on each harrowing event of attempted integration and crystal views of the triumphs and shortcomings of men such as Martin Luther King Jr., and Bobby Kennedy. Many who read this book may end up questioning their own beliefs on the charismatic John Kennedy and the iconic Martin Luther - but for sure everyone will be outraged at the stark ignorance and blunt racism of those defenders of Southern segregation. From this book I came to see the courage and incredible determination of a large group of young black and white men and woman who represented the best of what America should be. It is a wonder that so many of my generation completely ignored or were just unaware or uncaring of what great sacrifices were being made in the name of freedom. This book should be required reading for every college freshman in the nation. R. Marchesani