Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice

Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice

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by Raymond Arsenault
     
 

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"They were black and white, young and old, men and women. Some were college students who had just left home. Others were dedicated veterans of the old left. Yet others were ministers and rabbis. They believed in the power of non-violent protest, of direct action in the face of injustice. In the spring and summer of 1961, all of them literally put their lives on the… See more details below

Overview

"They were black and white, young and old, men and women. Some were college students who had just left home. Others were dedicated veterans of the old left. Yet others were ministers and rabbis. They believed in the power of non-violent protest, of direct action in the face of injustice. In the spring and summer of 1961, all of them literally put their lives on the line, riding buses through the American South to challenge segregation in interstate transport. They were the Freedom Riders, and their story is one of the most celebrated episodes of the civil rights movement. Yet no full-length history of the Freedom Rides has been written until now. In these pages, acclaimed historian Raymond Arsenault provides a gripping account of those months that jolted the consciousness of America." "The 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. Some barely escaped with their lives. When Martin Luther King met the Riders in Montgomery, a raging mob besieged them in a church, and a murderous riot was prevented only by the last-minute arrival of the National Guard." Arsenault recreates these moments with heart-stopping immediacy. His tightly braided narrative reaches from the White House - where, as he shows, the Freedom Rider crisis helped awaken the cautious Kennedy brothers to the moral power of the civil rights struggle - to the cells of Mississippi's infamous Parchman Prison, where dozens of Riders tormented their jailers nightly with rousing choruses of freedom anthems. He offers vivid portraits of dynamic figures such as James Farmer, Diane Nash, John Lewis, and Fred Shuttlesworth.

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Editorial Reviews

William Grimes
This is a story that only benefits from Mr. Arsenault's deliberately slowed-down narration. Moment by moment, he recreates the sense of crisis, and the terrifying threat of violence that haunted the first Freedom Riders, and their waves of successors, every mile of the way through the Deep South. He skillfully puts into order a bewildering series of events and leads the reader, painstakingly, through the political complexities of the time. Perhaps his greatest achievement is to show, through a wealth of detail, just how contested every inch of terrain was, and how uncertain the outcome, as the Freedom Riders pressed forward, hundreds of them filling Southern jails.
— The New York Times
Roger Wilkins
… I entirely agree with a statement made by my former Justice Department colleague the late sociologist James Laue, and quoted by Arsenault: "The national mobilization of conscience which had begun in Montgomery and grown in 1960 reached full bloom with the Freedom Rides." To find out how that happened, one must read Arsenault's superb rendering of that great saga. For those interested in understanding 20th-century America, this is an essential book.
— The Washington Post
Library Journal
Arsenault (history, Univ. of South Florida; Jacksonville: The Consolidation Story, from Civil Rights to the Jaguars) deftly weaves an intricate narrative of the 1961 Freedom Rides, the civil rights effort by black and white volunteers to enforce the integration of interstate buses and travel facilities throughout the Deep South. Narrating the origins, the violent and turbulent rides themselves, the litigation, and the legacy, this work is similar, in its skillful crafting, to James M. McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom on the Civil War. Arsenault recounts the dynamics of the civil rights organizations that eventually banded together to sustain the Freedom Rides, as well as the individual riders who suffered mob beatings and prison sentences. The interplay of the riders with municipal and state leaders, as well as with the Kennedys and the FBI at the federal level, is skillfully portrayed. The 500 pages are justified when one considers the near inexhaustible courage of the freedom riders and the significance of the national crisis they forced. For a more concise, thesis-driven history of the Freedom Rides, consider David Niven's The Politics of Injustice: The Kennedys, the Freedom Rides, and the Electoral Consequences of a Moral Compromise. Freedom Riders will find avid readership among patrons of academic collections.-Jim Hahn, Harper Coll. Lib., Palatine, IL Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher

"Surely the definitive study on the topic.... Arsenault skillfully brings to life these important historical figures, revealing their courage, fear, motivations, and conflicts--both internal and external."--Southern Historian

"A meticulous, all-encompassing study of the 1961 Freedom Riders and their subsequent efforts. It is a must-read for all students of America's freedom movement."--Lee E. Williams II, The Alabama Review

"Drawing on personal papers, F.B.I. files, and interviews with more than 200 participants in the rides, Arsenault brings vividly to life a defining moment in modern American history.... Rescues from obscurity the men and women who, at great personal risk, rode public buses into the South in order to challenge segregation in interstate travel.... Relates the story of the first Freedom Ride and the more than 60 that followed in dramatic, often moving detail."--Eric Foner, The New York Times Book Review

"Authoritative, compelling history.... This is a story that only benefits from Mr. Arsenault's deliberately slowed-down narration. Moment by moment, he recreates the sense of crisis, and the terrifying threat of violence that haunted the first Freedom Riders, and their waves of successors, every mile of the way through the Deep South. He skillfully puts into order a bewildering series of events and leads the reader, painstakingly, through the political complexities of the time. Perhaps his greatest achievement is to show, through a wealth of detail, just how contested every inch of terrain was, and how uncertain the outcome, as the Freedom Riders pressed forward, hundreds of them filling Southern jails."--William Grimes, The New York Times

"For those interested in understanding 20th-century America, this is an essential book.... In his dramatic and exhaustive account of the Freedom Riders, Arsenault makes a persuasive case that the idealism, faith, ingenuity and incredible courage of a relatively small group of Americans--both white and black--lit a fuse in 1961 that drew a reluctant federal government into the struggle--and also enlarged, energized and solidified (more or less) the hitherto fragmented civil rights movement.... Arsenault tells the story in wonderfully rich detail. He explains how young people, knowing the brutality and danger that others had faced, nevertheless came to replace them -- in wave after wave -- to ride dangerous roads, to face lawless lawmen, to withstand the fury of racist mobs, to endure the squalor and danger of Southern jails -- even the dreaded Parchman Farm in Mississippi."--Roger Wilkins, Washington Post Book World

"Compelling.... A complex, vivid and sympathetic history of a civil-rights milestone."--David Cohen, Philadelphia Inquirer

"Arsenault has written what will surely become the definitive account of these nonviolent protests.... Arsenault's fine narrative shows how the Freedom Rides were important journeys on the long road to racial justice."--Richmond Times-Dispatch

"This is a thrilling book. It brings to life a crucial episode in the movement that ended racial brutality in the American south, giving us both the bloody drama of the Freedom Rides and the legal and political maneuvering behind the scenes."--Anthony Lewis

"The Freedom Rides brought onto the national stage the civil rights struggle and those who would play leading roles in it.... Arsenault chronicles the Freedom Rides with a mosaic of what may appear daunting detail. But delving into Arsenault's account, it becomes clear that his record of strategy sessions, church vigils, bloody assaults, mass arrests, political maneuverings and personal anguish captures the mood and the turmoil, the excitement and the confusion of the movement and the time."--Michael Kenney, The Boston Globe

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199792962
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
01/15/2006
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
696,767
File size:
3 MB

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