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Table of Contents
See the fact file below for more information on Freedom Riders or alternatively, you can download our comprehensive worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
- Freedom Riders is a term used to refer to those who rode interstate buses into segregated states in 1961.
- They rode as part of the Civil Rights Movement, trying to gain equality for all.
- Even though federal law and U.S. Supreme Court decisions mandated an end to segregation, or the separation of blacks and whites, many bus depots in the South as well as the buses themselves were still segregated.
- Freedom Riders tried to use whites-only restrooms and lunch counters at bus stations in Alabama, South Carolina and other Southern states.
- The groups were confronted by police officers, as well as horrific violence from white protesters along their routes.
- In 1947, Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organized an earlier attempt to end segregation on public bus transportation called The Journey of Reconciliation, an interracial ride from Washington D.C. to Kentucky.
- The group only got as far as Chapel Hill, NC, where they were met with violent resistance and arrest.
- In 1961, resurrecting the ‘Journey’ seemed appropriate, as the CORE-inspired lunch counter sit-ins of February, 1960, had brought the problem of segregation to the national stage.
- The sit-ins involved primarily college students who sat at white-only lunch counters, which led to violent beatings by the mostly white opposition.
- The original group of 13 Freedom Riders, consisting of seven African-American and six white people, left Washington, D.C., on a Greyhound bus on May 4, 1961.
- Their plan was to reach New Orleans, Louisiana, on May 17 to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, which ruled that segregation of the nation’s public schools was unconstitutional.
- The group traveled through Virginia and North Carolina, drawing little public notice.
- The first violent incident occurred on May 12 in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
- John Lewis, an African-American seminary student and member of the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), white Freedom Rider and World War II veteran Albert Bigelow, and another African-American rider were viciously attacked as they attempted to enter a whites-only waiting area.
- The next day, the group reached Atlanta, Georgia, where some of the riders split off onto a Trailways bus.
- On May 14, 1961, the Greyhound bus was the first to arrive in Anniston, Alabama.
- About 200 white people surrounded the bus, causing the driver to continue past the bus station.
- The mob followed the bus in automobiles, and when the tires on the bus blew out, someone threw a bomb into the bus.
- The Freedom Riders escaped the bus as it burst into flames, only to be brutally beaten by members of the surrounding mob.
- The second bus traveled to Birmingham, Alabama, and those riders were also beaten by an angry white mob with
- Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner, Bull Connor, stated that, although he knew the Freedom Riders were arriving and that violence awaited them, he posted no police protection at the station because it was Mother’s Day.
- Photographs of the burning Greyhound bus and the bloodied riders appeared on the front pages of newspapers throughout the country and around the world the next day, drawing international attention to the Freedom Riders’ cause and the state of race relations in the United States.
- Following the widespread violence, CORE officials could not find a bus driver who would agree to transport the integrated group, and they decided to abandon the Freedom Rides.
- However, Diane Nash, an activist from the SNCC organized a group of 10 students from Nashville, Tennessee, to continue with the rides.
- U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, brother of President John F. Kennedy, began negotiating with Governor John Patterson of Alabama and the bus companies to secure a driver and state protection for the new group of Freedom Riders.
- The rides finally resumed on a Greyhound bus departing Birmingham under police escort, on May 20.
- The police abandoned the Greyhound bus just before it arrived at the Montgomery, Alabama, terminal where a white mob attacked the riders with baseball bats and clubs as they disembarked.
- Attorney General Kennedy sent 600 federal marshals to the city to stop the violence.
- The following night, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. led a service at the First Baptist Church in Montgomery, which was attended by more than one thousand supporters of the Freedom Riders.
- A riot ensued outside the church, and King Jr. called Robert Kennedy to ask for protection.
- Kennedy summoned the federal marshals, who used tear gas to disperse the white mob.
- Patterson declared martial law in the city and dispatched the National Guard to restore order.
- On May 24, 1961, a group of Freedom Riders departed Montgomery for Jackson, Mississippi.
- Hundreds of supporters greeted the riders. However, those who attempted to use the whites-only facilities were arrested for trespassing and taken to the maximum-security penitentiary in Parchman, Mississippi.
- During their hearings, the judge turned and looked at the wall rather than listen to the Freedom Riders’ defense, as had been the case when sit-in participants were arrested for protesting segregated lunch counters in Tennessee. He sentenced the riders to 30 days in jail.
- Attorneys from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a civil rights organization, appealed the convictions all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which reversed them.
- The violence and arrests continued to garner national and international attention and drew hundreds of new Freedom Riders to the cause.
- The rides continued and in the fall of 1961, the Interstate Commerce Commission issued regulations prohibiting segregation in interstate transit terminals under pressure from the Kennedy administration.
Freedom Riders Worksheets
This bundle includes 11 ready-to-use Freedom Riders worksheets that are perfect for students to learn about The Freedom Riders who were a very brave group participating in the Civil Rights Movement in 1961. They were an interracial group of black and white people who sought to desegregate America’s public bus transportation system.
This download includes the following worksheets:
- Freedom Riders Facts
- First Ride
- Rides Continued
- Greyhound Bus
- Fill in the Blanks
- Synonyms and Antonyms
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Link will appear as Freedom Riders Facts & Worksheets: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, April 27, 2019
Use With Any Curriculum
These worksheets have been specifically designed for use with any international curriculum. You can use these worksheets as-is, or edit them using Google Slides to make them more specific to your own student ability levels and curriculum standards.