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Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (Pivotal Moments in American History)

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  354 Ratings  ·  45 Reviews
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, acc ...more
Paperback, 704 pages
Published February 1st 2007 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published January 1st 2006)
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Mikey B.
Nov 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
An excellent narrative history of the Freedom Bus rides of 1961. This is “on the ground” history with details of the bus rides and the horrendous events surrounding them – the Anniston bus burnings, the racist beatings in Birmingham and Montgomery. Mr. Arsenault tells the story as history in the making – at the time in question the bus riders did not have the advantage of forty-five year hind-sight.

The author portrays well the myriad characters who organized these rides as well as their Southern
I got caught up in reading other books and didn't get to this one until a few days before it was due at the library so was unable to finish it. My husband read it while I was frittering away my time on other things and was much impressed--probably a 5 star book for him.

This book is amazingly detailed for an "abridged" edition. The on-the-ground activities of the Freedom Riders and the political maneuvering of the Kennedy administration seem to be equally well documented. I was surprised to lear
Nov 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ★★★★★
A book to read and reread, outlining the very moving and compelling history of the 1961 Freedom Riders movement.
Oct 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
The determination of a few gave equality to many. It's hard to believe this happened only a little over 50 years ago. Getting on a bus to cross state lines and challenge laws in the South took great courage and conviction. Again, how is it that people are so "cruel" to those not like them. It takes generations for behavior to be un-learned. This book reads much like a a text book, but is worth reading. Many compelling stories and incidents.
Mar 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This is a wonderful piece of history, helped along considerably by the fact that the author was able to interview the participants. You can't help but admire the bravery of those who risked their lives to open up public transportation. Ray Arsenault has done a great job with this scholarly work, which also has an abridged version, and which was made into a PBS documentary.
Sarah Sledge
Feb 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am so thankful to add this powerful book to my very limited bank of knowledge. I recommend it to everyone who hasn't done so already. Read it! Know it! And carry its message with you. These tremendously brave men and women exemplify the spirit of the best humanity has to offer. Wonderfully written and researched.
Jun 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
When I picked up this book, I was reluctant because I was skeptical that I would learn anything that I didn't already know. It was thick, with 528 pages of text, and I noticed that the pages were filled, leaving not much white space, and the font was small compared to other books I was reading. And all of this writing was devoted to an episode that occurred over the course of six months! I had seen the documentary from 1986 called 'Eyes on the Prize'. I had read the two substantial chapters abou ...more
Jul 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In what author Raymond Arsenault calls the first historical study of the Freedom Rides, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice is a journalistic and chronological narrative that separates, but does not isolate, the Freedom Rides from the broader context of the Civil Rights movement. Arsenault’s revisionist styled history addresses the lack of historical focus on the Freedom Rides itself, which he claims has so far only been discussed by historians as a “prelude to the climactic ...more
James Klagge
This was well worth reading. Even though I know a lot about the civil rights movement, I knew much less about this 1961 portion than I had thought. Everyone knows that Rosa Parks desegregated bus transportation in 1955 by initiating the Montgomery Bus Boycott. That was a courageous and significant act. But its significance was largely symbolic, as it had virtually no effect in actually changing laws or customs in the South. This book shows the depth and extent of Southern resistance to desegrega ...more
Gregg Wingo
Nov 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Being a good historian Dr. Arsenault has obeyed the 50-year rule of historical research but just barely with this abridged edition. Covering the civil rights event known as the Freedom Rides he provides us with both a powerful story and the factual detail to support it. It is also has a companion film of the same name produced as part of PBS' American Experience. There is, of course, also available the unabridged version for the serious student of history.

This text is visceral in its description
Lisa Ross
Jun 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This highly impressive historical book starts in 1944 (11 years prior to Rosa Parks) when a woman named Irene Morgan, was arrested in Saluda, VA. for refusing to move from her bus seat for white passengers. This spawned the 'Journey of Reconciliation' ride of 1947 that consisted of 15 black & white male riders. This group was made up of members of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) a group that was highly influenced by the teachings of Ghandi, and believed that the theory of nonviolent react ...more
Feb 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing

In 1961 an integrated band of college students—many of whom were the first in their families to attend a university—decided, en masse, to risk everything and buy a ticket on a Greyhound bus bound for the Deep South. They called themselves the Freedom Riders, and they managed to bring the president and the entire American public face to face with the challenge of correcting civil-rights inequities that plagued the nation.

No words can express my admiration for these young people for their courage
Feb 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book is another great addition to the Pivotal moments in American history series. This series seeks to assess the events that led to a major paradigm shift in American history changing the country in some way. The argument here is that the Freedom Rides established a basis for social justice that had not been achieved previously. With this topic the author does an excellent job of putting a human face on the struggle the riders went through and you can feel the palpable hatred that the ride ...more
May 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: african-american
Before those who Marched on Washington, there were the Freedom Riders of 1961. Before Rosa Parks of 1955, there was Irene Morgan of 1944. Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia was the Supreme Court case that started it all; it's ruling allowed for desegregated bus travel for interstate bus travelers. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) first attempted a `Journey of Reconciliation' in 1947 which tested the Supreme Court decision. The more robust Freedom Rides across the Deep South came later.

Emily Leader
Jan 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Arsenault is a marvelous writer who righty earned the trust and cooperation of a wide array of Freedom Riders and his thorough, original research is evident throughout. He incorporates their voices beautifully while capturing the social, political and historical context of this two years of direct action, nonviolence, prison farms, criminal trials and violent, virulent resistance by the citizens and authorities in cities and towns of the deep south. I liked that Arsenault addresses the interrela ...more
Feb 08, 2009 rated it liked it
Reveals that the Freedom Rides of 1961 were not simply a stop on the way to Civil Rights legislation, but the middle point from the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement until 1968, when MLK’s assassination marked a turning point for Black Power. In 1944, Irene Morgan took a bus from Virginia to Baltimore. This African American women refused to give up her seat, and appealed her case to the Supreme court, who as early as 1946 sustained the appeal. Of course, segregation continued throughout th ...more
John Kennedy
Jul 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a well-told. comprehensive, gripping narrative of this largely ignored, important piece of U.S. history that served as a catalyst for sweeping civil rights changes in the 1960s. The book does a great job of showing the lonely struggles of those who showed the courage to stand up for their convictions against deep-seated prejudice and traditions in the South. Few institutions--political, media or religious--in the South or North were on their side back then. The text exposes the hypocrisy ...more
Although Arsenault edited his original 700-page scholarly work down to a mere 300 pages, the book is still a bit daunting. It does read more like a history text, or academic work, rather than an unfolding narrative.

That being said, it is still very well written and is about an extremely important topic - important, little-known non-violent civil rights movement in 1961 - prior to some of the more publicized movements that would take place in 1963 and later.

The activities of the Freedom Riders
Apr 30, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: can-t-finish-it
I remember as a pre-teen that Andy Young, then a young Atlanta minister and civil rights organizer (and later the US rep to the UN under Jimmy Carter)came to visit our Congregational church in Minneapolis to tell us about and raise money to support the civil rights struggle in the South. That would have been 1961 or 62 just the time this Freedom Riders story takes place. What an extraordinary time in our history and what courage these fighters have. It's remarkably easy reading for an intense de ...more
Ray Higgins
Jan 29, 2017 rated it liked it
This book refreshed my memory of the events that lead up to and surrounded the Freedom Riders. The Freedom Riders were protesting segregated interstate travel, which the US Supreme Court had ruled was unconstitutional. In the Deep South, this along with many other human rights violations were typically never addressed or enforced due to local custom and the acceptance of Jim Crow era laws.

US Congressman John Lewis was one of the Freedom Riders along with many others from different backgrounds w
Feb 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow, this read was exceptionally well-written as well as dense! I have no ideas how the author managed to pack in all of the legal, social, and daily battles into one cohesive story - so complex! It read easily, though near the end, my brain was a little exhausted of legal talk. It was nonetheless, engaging and page-turning.

An excellent summary of the Freedom Rides, very comprehensive. I am eager to watch the PBS American Experience accompanying video!

Of note, there is an unabridged version whi
Feb 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
When these events took place, I was still a naive white teenage racist in Ohio. This book brought back memories of events I didn't understand at the time. This is gripping writing that reflects the tension and interplay between between all sides (freedom riders, segregationists, government, courts) during a short period in the civil rights movement. When I started reading I didn't think the Freedom Riders were a pivotal event in American history. Arsenault has made me reconsider that assumption.
Mar 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Mistakenly, I checked the unabridged version of this book on Goodreads when I started reading it. I have finished the abridged version which I found quite comprehensive, compelling and disturbing. Mr. Arsenault did massive research to write the unabridged version and then the abridged. It is the companion edition to the American Experience film on PBS. It seems at times that we have not come very far in the 50 years since the Freedom Rides. It is well worth the read
Barbara Poore
May 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I did not read this edition, but the abridged. This book is an amazing account of the freedom riders--college students who braved jail, beatings, and indeed their lives in the summer of 1961 to desegregate interstate bus travel. Firmly renouncing violence in the spirit of Gandhi, they set the course of civil rights actions that followed. Interesting and unknown to me account of back room dealings by John and Robert Kennedy. Served as a basis for the PBS movie.
Carol Silver
Feb 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book is gripping, because it interweaves current local and international news of the period with the actual events of the Freedom Rides, and personal accounts. The author indicates he spent almost ten years researching this book for an academic press, and it was worth it! This is the fundamental research text for the 1961 Freedom Rides, and was the basis for the PBS documentary which came out on the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Rides.
Jan 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I highly recommend this book especially for my Alabama friends. We need to know the history of this state. This is a part of the Civil Rights movement I did not know about and did not learn about in school. If nothing else just read Chapter 4. I don't know if I would have been as brave as these 400+ students who risked their lives for change in 1961.
Jul 24, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-social
It started out a little bit slow and it is sometimes difficult to keep track of all of the people involved, but it was very interesting and a detailed account of one of the important aspects of the Civil Rights Movement.
Apr 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read it when I was quite a bit younger, so I don't remember much about it besides that I liked it, was thinking a lot about it after finishing it, and that I actually read it. It is this book that showed me that I like historical fiction.
I really learned alot by reading this book. I learn things that I think I should have been taught in school. I hope others will enjoy this book in the way of learning how these people helped pave the way for us and for the furture people too.
David Bird
Jan 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
A very thorough and well-written piece. After fifty years, popular culture has created the common view that Civil Rights Movement=MLK. This book demonstrates that movement was made up of many.

Sadly, its story seems ever more relevant.
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Madison Mega-Mara...: Book #19: Freedom Riders by Raymond Arsenault 1 5 Feb 19, 2013 02:04PM  
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