Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice

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Oxford University Press, Jan 15, 2006 - History - 704 pages
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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 House--where the Kennedys were just awakening to the moral power of the civil rights struggle--to 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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Freedom riders: 1961 and the struggle for racial justice

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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 ... Read full review

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This book is unforgettable. It is exhaustively and meticulously researched -- the bibliography runs 27 pages. The courage of the Freedom Riders is both inspiring and humbling. The story is dramatic, and Arsenault writes well, so at times you just can't put it down. Those who, in 2016, want to "take our country back" could perhaps use a reminder that one of the places we don't want to go back to is Alabama in 1961. And it wasn't that long ago.  


1 You Dont Have to Ride Jim Crow
2 Beside the Weary Road
3 Hallelujah Im aTravelin
4 Alabama Bound
5 Get on Board Little Children
6 If You Miss Me from the Back of the Bus
7 Freedoms Coming and It Wont Be Long
10 Woke Up This Morning with My Mind on Freedom
11 Oh Freedom
Glory Bound
Roster of Freedom Riders

8 Make Me a Captive Lord
9 Aint Gonna Let No Jail House Turn Me Round

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About the author (2006)

Raymond Arsenault is the John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History and co-director of the Florida Studies Program at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg. A graduate of Princeton and Brandeis, he is the author of two prize-winning books and numerous articles on race, civil rights, and regional culture.

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