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Civil Rights Movement in “Freedom Riders” Documentary Essay


In general, a documentary called “Freedom Riders” directed by Stanley Nelson provides a comprehensive overview of the crucial, terrible events regarding the civil right movement that happened at the beginning of the 1960s. This episode greatly undermines the image of American liberty that was propagandized at that time (Nelson). As a commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of freedom movements, Nelson’s movie is a story of segregation and racism, abhorrence, courage, and the general brutality of the depicted events.

The film starts with the description of the events occurred in 1961. Thus, at the beginning of 1961, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) along with Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) attempted to manage the problem of segregation between white and black people in public transport. The strategies and the main purpose of these organizations were almost the same.

The main advantage of their strategies was that they explicitly showed that the social segregation causes only negative effects. The main disadvantage of the strategies was that their actions were in most cases ineffective (“Civil Rights Movement”). Thus, they decided to send young activists of both races, most of which being students, on a bus trip through the US’s southern states. As a result, people who saw them expressed a high degree of violence, with which even law enforcers did not want to deal.

The beginning of the story depicts two buses departing from Atlanta in 1961. The destination was Birmingham in Alabama. The initiators of this trip knew that the activists would face hostility, but they could not predict the consequences of this confrontation. One of the buses was already burned in Anniston, Alabama. The second bus continued moving without knowing what had happened to the first one (Nelson). However, the amount of courage that they had was enough to continue their journey even if they were warned about the events occurred with the first bus.

At that time, Birmingham was one of the most racially segregated cities in the whole country. The mayor of this city was Bull Connor, who, being a police commissioner, was obsessed with the idea of racism. Connor gathered many members of the Ku Klux Klan in order to destroy the buses and neutralize the passengers (“Civil Rights Movement”). Another character of the movie, John Patterson, the governor of Alabama, was ordered by the federal government to provide protection to the activists. In the present-time interview, he claims that he was afraid of confronting Connor and, being a political opportunist, he supported the Ku Klux Klan position.

The film conveys the idea of powerlessness of justice which was sustained by the emotionally unstable racist fanatics. Moreover, the Supreme Court twice attempted to abolish the law about the racial segregation in public transport twice, one being in 1946 and the other – in 1960, both ending with failures.

By the end of 1961, the number of people participating in the freedom movements had considerably increased. Many of them were attacked by radical and arrested by the police. Eventually, in September of 1961, the Interstate Commerce Commission ended the segregation in public transport, which was a great triumph of the civil rights movement (Nelson). Thus, the film ends with this event stating that another milestone on the road to freedom was successfully reached on that day.

Additionally, the changing media landscape in the 1960s provided a great opportunity for civil rights activists to advance their claims. They emphasized that the history had shown that the first the abolition of slavery in 1863 and then the acceptance of black people had brought only positive changes to the country and its citizens. Comparing today’s civil rights movement with that happening almost sixty years ago, it is important to mention that although some of those problems remained.

However, currently, there are no such clashes between different races as those in the 1960s (“Civil Rights Movement”). In fact, the situation with racism and the protection of civil rights has become much better than it was sixty years ago.

Works Cited

History, 2016. Web.

Danhof, Clarence. Change in Agriculture: The Northern United States. Harvard University Press, 2012.

Demaree, Albert Lowther. The American Agricultural Press, 1819-1860. Columbia University Press, 2014.

Nelson, Stanley. “Freedom Riders (A Documentary on NonViolent Civil Right Movement in the US).” YouTube, uploaded by Socko Pricket. 2012. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2020, November 6). Civil Rights Movement in "Freedom Riders" Documentary. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/civil-rights-movement-in-freedom-riders-documentary/

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"Civil Rights Movement in "Freedom Riders" Documentary." IvyPanda, 6 Nov. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/civil-rights-movement-in-freedom-riders-documentary/.

1. IvyPanda. "Civil Rights Movement in "Freedom Riders" Documentary." November 6, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/civil-rights-movement-in-freedom-riders-documentary/.


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IvyPanda. 2020. "Civil Rights Movement in "Freedom Riders" Documentary." November 6, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/civil-rights-movement-in-freedom-riders-documentary/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Civil Rights Movement in "Freedom Riders" Documentary'. 6 November.

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