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Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice 2nd ed. Edition

4.8 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199754311
ISBN-10: 0199754314
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Editorial Reviews


"A passionate, dazzlingly well written narrative account of the Freedom Rides, the dramatic direct actions that seemed to draw every great man (and woman) in the United States into their orbit."--Todd Moye, The Journal of Southern History

"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."--J.E. Branscombe, 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 John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 2nd ed. edition (March 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199754314
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199754311
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1 x 6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #256,062 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By William B. Jones on May 17, 2011
Format: Paperback
"Freedom Riders" is a crucial telling of a portion of the American civil rights movement fifty years after its occurrence, by those who lived it, resisted it, reported it and learned from it. Presented on film as an American Experience production, and condensed here as a companion book by Raymond Arsenault from his original version. Ann Bausum offers younger readers a telling of these events in "Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movement."

Dave Garrow's 1987 Pulitzer Prize "Bearing the Cross" covered the development of "Freedom Summer" (and the Kennedys' learning curve) as well, as did Taylor Branch's "Parting the Waters." Lynne Olson's "Freedom's Daughter's" offers particular insight into the key role Diane Nash played.
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Freedom Riders’ author Raymond Arsenault tells us about bold civil rights activists, determined to desegregate buses and bus facilities in America’s South through non-violent direct action. The 1954 United States Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education called for an end to separate but equal Jim Crow laws—separate dining and restroom facilities for “colored” and “white,” for example—but in practice the law did not change much, especially in America’s Deep South. Seven years after the landmark decision, interstate bus operators like Greyhound and Trailways, and the terminals that served them, still remained segregated.
In May 1961, the civil rights group, Congress of Racial Equality (“CORE”) launched a direct action challenge to the status quo. Determined to employ a Gandhian-style, non-violent method to change the system, CORE organized groups of volunteers to board Greyhound and Trailways buses and head southward. CORE deployed well-organized, well-trained, racially diverse teams, comprising black and white volunteer riders. Each team had a leader. A handful of journalists joined these initial rides. The first rides began in Washington D.C. destined for New Orleans, following a precarious route through Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and on to Louisiana.
The mission called for non-violent direct challenges to desegregation of buses and facilities. Black riders would purposefully sit in the front of the bus—seats traditionally reserved for white passengers; and some whites would purposefully sit in the back. At rest stops and dining facilities the riders peacefully challenged the “white’s only” and “colored only” signs.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.

Arsenault does a superb job of covering end-to-end the transformative nature of the Freedom Rides; the first large-scale nonviolent direct action civil rights movement. The entire cast, the organizers, the Kennedy Administration and the staunch Southern segregationists are all on display here. As for the diverse band of individuals called the Freedom Riders "...the greater the hardship, the more committed they seemed to be", you will discover that their commitment and courage is unmatched on any level. Unbeknownst to them, their attempt in 1961 to speed up the slow gradualism of racial equality, became the blueprint for future nonviolent civil rights action.
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Format: Paperback
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 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 of violence and depravity that was inflicted on the Freedom Riders and it speaks directly to the human drama and pure courage of the four hundred and thirty-six members who placed their very lives at risk for the concept of freedom and equality and the right of all Americans to participate within the rights granted under the US Constitution. It also illuminates the level of racism and hatred that infiltrated all levels of Southern society and the ongoing failure of the Federal government to enforce the promise of our Nation's principles.

The professor places great importance on how the Freedom Riders reinvigorated the civil rights movements and made possible the future successes of the 60s. It is not a flattering portrayal of the Kennedy administration, the established civil rights' leaders or their organizations. It firmly concludes that it was the empowerment of Black and White youths that made the Freedom Rides a success and brought nonviolent protests to the forefront of the civil rights movement and moved it away from litigation as the sole path to equality.

In a time of rising racism and White fear it is an important book for those of us too young to remember Jim Crow to learn the sacrifices that were made for all Americans.
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