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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The saga of the Freedom Rides is an improbable, almost unbelievable story. In the course of six months in 1961, four hundred and fifty Freedom Riders expanded the realm of the possible in American politics, redefining the limits of dissent and setting the stage for the civil rights movement. In this new version of his encyclopedic Freedom Riders, Raymond

Overview

The saga of the Freedom Rides is an improbable, almost unbelievable story. In the course of six months in 1961, four hundred and fifty Freedom Riders expanded the realm of the possible in American politics, redefining the limits of dissent and setting the stage for the civil rights movement. In this new version of his encyclopedic Freedom Riders, Raymond Arsenault offers a significantly condensed and tautly written account. With characters and plot lines rivaling those of the most imaginative fiction, this is a tale of heroic sacrifice and unexpected triumph. Arsenault recounts how a group of volunteers--blacks and whites--came together to travel from Washington DC through the Deep South, defying Jim Crow laws in buses and terminals and putting their lives on the line for racial justice. News photographers captured the violence in Montgomery, shocking the nation and sparking a crisis in the Kennedy administration. Here are the key players--their fears and courage, their determination and second thoughts, and the agonizing choices they faced as they took on Jim Crow--and triumphed. Winner of the Owsley Prize Publication is timed to coincide with the airing of the American Experience miniseries documenting the Freedom Rides "Arsenault brings vividly to life a defining moment in modern American history." --Eric Foner, The New York Times Book Review "Authoritative, compelling history." --William Grimes, The New York Times "For those interested in understanding 20th-century America, this is an essential book." --Roger Wilkins, Washington Post Book World "Arsenault's 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

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

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199792962
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
03/11/2011
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
846,717
File size:
3 MB

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Meet the Author

Raymond Arsenault is John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg.

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Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice Abridged 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
John60WV More than 1 year ago
I was truly inspired by the the courage and dedication of the Freddom Rideers. The "riders" put their lives on the line for the cause of freedom. They also showed the world that injustice could be challenged by non violence. They withstood verbal intimidatio and physical attacks. Many were almost killed. But by holding firm to their beliefs of non vilence and justice they showed the world that evil could be succesfully challenged by non viollence. What I liked best about this story is that this was an intigrated group and people from all walks of life can come together and fight for a common cause.
Rebecca Floyd More than 1 year ago
I was blown away by the stories this book tells. It is very hard to believe that they did this and put an end to segargation. I look up to these people and to know their stories is all the better. Buy this book, u won't regret it
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krazyangel More than 1 year ago
This is a good book to read with ur family. Its a good teachin for the kids to learn.