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Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Learn more

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

18 customer reviews
ISBN-10: 0195327144
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Editorial Reviews


"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

About the Author

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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Product Details

  • Series: Pivotal Moments in American History (Oxford)
  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (February 19, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195327144
  • ASIN: B003BVK320
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 1.9 x 5.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,410,078 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Joseph J. McDonald on March 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As a participant,I can vouch for all material that related to my experiences as a Freedom Rider in the book.The writing accurately descibes the atmosphere and conditions of my experiences in Jackson City Jail and Parchman Prison Farm's maximum security unit.I was amazed by the fidelity of the narrative,it was like being transfered back in time!The short but excellent telling of the Monroe Freedom Rider Project with Robert Williams in North Carolina was enlightning for me as a participant because of the dramatic events of that disastorous Sunday.I was one of five riders not on the picket line and never heard of the experiences of those arrested downtown.I cannot recommend this book more highly for anyone interested in the civil rights movement. It should be read by anyone who is politically active in order to understand the complexity of social movements and the responsibilty of the participant to their cause and the people they are attempting to help.

We shall overcome!
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Peter Golenbock on January 20, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In 1961 there were dozens of Freedom Rides by hundreds of riders. Ray Arsenault set out to interview as many of them as he could find, and he spent eight years tracking them down in order to write this comprehensive, highly readable and fascinating book. Before the first rides, he gives the reader a complete history of the civil rights movement, so that when the riders get on buses and head south, you understand fully how radical and dangerous it was. When a bus is burned, you're as horrified as when it happened. By the end of the book, the reader has experienced a lot of sturn and angst. Some questioned whether the rides really accomplished anything, but the author makes it clear just how important the Freedom Rides were to the civil rights movement. All without much help from the Kennedy brothers, who feared a southern backlash in the mid-term elections in 1962. A lot has changed in the last 45 years. This great book documents why.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By William Doyle on March 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is an unqualified masterpiece treatment of an epic civil rights story. Fascinating characters, superb storytelling and a brilliant historian's perspective create a book that will amaze and move you. I read the whole thing in a mountain cabin on a vacation in New Zealand, and have rarely felt so proud to be an American. It is a story of pure guts and glory. Prepare yourself to be absouletly blown away.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By John Marvel on December 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The subject of the Freedom Riders came up during a dinner conversation with my 38 year old son. I could not answer some of his questions which led me to this book. Raymond Arsenault starts exactly at the right place with Irene Morgan in 1944 to begin his narrative. He writes with a style that enables the reader to absorb the wealth of information on every page with ease. I highly recommend the book and it should be required reading for any serious student of the Civil Rights Movement post World War II.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mike B on March 27, 2011
Format: Paperback
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 antagonists. It still remains incomprehensible the level of hatred, racism, and intolerance that white southerners manifested to their fellow human beings. One must remember that these beatings by mobs were orchestrated by the White Southern power structure. The state and municipal (as well as the F.B.I.) gave whole-hearted backing to the Ku Klux Klan to pursue and assault the Freedom Riders. Raymond Arsenault depicts the ambivalence of the Kennedy administration wavering between the Southern state governments (to whom they owed their election victory) and the moral imperative of civil rights. Their reaction, as Arsenault suggests, was more political than moral.

Robert Kennedy was very reluctant to even send a few hundred federal marshals to protect the Freedom Riders who were besieged in a church by a mob tossing Molotov cocktails.

There are various heroes and groups portrayed - from Irene Morgan in 1944 who refused to leave the "white section" of a bus to Diane Nash who continued the Freedom Rides after their initial "failure" in Anniston and Birmingham.

It would seem that when the ICC (Interstate Commerce Commission) passed a law prohibiting discrimination on buses and their affiliated distributors (like restaurants, waiting rooms...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Lehigh History Student VINE VOICE on July 19, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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 riders experienced and the racism is simply nauseating. It is unbelievable how clear the author captures it and not only for the hate towards the riders but the strict values that held this racism in place. What many people saw as right was the destruction of the freedom riders. The author does an excellent job at explaining the dichotomy in the country and showing how the Freedom Rides changed the perception of everyone towards social justice issues. For the first time white and black worked together not always seamlessly but with greater fervor than ever before. The direct action campaigns shifted focuses on what was happening the country creating new challenges. The book is extensively researched and relies not only on newspapers but countless interviews and the author should be commended for the work he put in. An excellent book to read and highly recommended.
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