Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Melody from Dallas, TX. Melody Wonders, “Are any of the freedom riders or little rock nine members still alive today?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Melody!

Who is the bravest person you know? Is it a family member who is brave every day at work? How about a friend who will try anything once? You might even think of brave historical figures like Harriet Tubman, Sitting Bull, or Amelia Earhart. However, there’s one brave group of people you may not have heard of. Who are we talking about? The Freedom Riders! 

What did the Freedom Riders do that was so brave? Did they ride the world’s tallest roller coaster? Or maybe the wildest horses? Did they ride in an airplane and then jump out? No, the Freedom Riders didn’t get their name for any of those things. Instead, they showed their bravery by riding buses.

But these weren’t just any bus rides. In 1961, many parts of American society were still segregated. Many Supreme Court rulings had made segregation in public places like buses and schools illegal. But still, it went on. The Freedom Riders wanted to change that.

It all started with a group called the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Its members came up with a plan to desegregate buses through Freedom Rides. They found volunteers, most of them between the ages of 18 and 30,  to ride buses across the country. The plan was to defy segregation practices on buses and in bus terminals. That meant they would occupy spaces where people of different races were usually kept separate. That included the buses themselves and the public bus terminals

CORE knew the Freedom Rides would be dangerous. Many white people in the South were determined to keep segregation in place. Freedom Rides would make these people very angry. Still, on May 4, 1961, 13 brave CORE members set off on the first Freedom Ride. They boarded two buses in Washington, DC. Their goal was to desegregate the bus route on their way to New Orleans, Louisiana. 

On the Freedom Ride, African American Freedom Riders sat in seats on the buses that were reserved for white people. White Freedom Riders sat in seats intended for people of color. In bus terminals, the Freedom Riders used restrooms intended for people of other races. They did everything they could to desegregate the bus route.

People reacted to the Freedom Riders violently. On May 14, in Alabama, an angry mob of over 100 people overtook one of the buses. The mob set the bus on fire, forcing the riders off. They then beat many of the riders. The local police took a long time to stop the mob. Some of the Freedom Riders were badly hurt. 

Was that the end of the Freedom Riders? No! If anything, it made them even more determined. Another Freedom Ride set off on May 17, 1961. This time, ten riders rode from Nashville, Tennessee, to Birmingham, Alabama. There, Birmingham police arrested them for disobeying segregation policies. After their release, the Freedom Riders tried to leave on another bus. When it arrived in Montgomery, Alabama, a white mob beat them badly. 

The first two Freedom Rides had a big impact. They got the attention of President John F. Kennedy. On May 29, 1961, he urged the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to ban segregation on all buses under its control. 

Still, the Freedom Rides continued. Hundreds of Freedom Riders bought bus tickets. They forced desegregation of buses all over the country. They were wrongfully arrested and filled Southern jails. Finally, the ICC officially desegregated its public buses on November 1, 1961. 

All-in-all, over 400 Freedom Riders took part in the desegregation of federal buses. Thanks to them, buses all over the US are desegregated today. The Freedom Riders played a large role in pulling the attention of more Americans to the evils of segregation. This helped set the stage for further desegregation efforts across the country.

Standards: C3.D2.His.2, C3.D2.Civ.13, C3.D2.Civ.14, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2, C3.D2.His.3, CCRA.W.7, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2

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Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day is awfully SPACE-cial!