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The Documentary “Freedom Riders” Essay (Movie Review)


The documentary “Freedom Riders” describes the experiences of hundreds of freedom activists whose agenda was to challenge racial discrimination in the United States interstate transport sector. These civil rights protesters traveled in interracial groups to different southern states (“Freedom Riders”). The activists wanted to ensure all people had access to waiting rooms and bus terminal restaurants across the nation. This discussion analyzes the documentary in an attempt to understand the strategies employed by the civil rights activists.

Changing Media Landscape

The movie reveals that the activists of the 1960s capitalized on the changing media landscape in an attempt to pursue their aims. The campaigners were accompanied by photographers and reporters who covered their actions and missions. Most of these journalists were from the Black Press (“Freedom Riders”). The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was observed to bring on board a freelance writer to ensure every happening was covered. This analysis shows clearly that the riders were aware of the potential benefits of the emerging media industry. This approach would make it easier for them to sensitize more people about the ongoing struggle.

Although early coverage and news labeled most of these riders as extremists, eyewitness accounts, images, and revelations encouraged more people to sympathize and support the riders’ agenda. For instance, images of the beatings at Birmingham Trailways Bus Station were shared across the nation. One of the buses burned in Anniston was captured on camera. The Ku Klux Klan members collaborated with the police to attack most of the freedom activists (Silver 13). The KKK attacked one of the photographers known as Tommy Langstom. More people were able to understand and follow these heinous events.

Different newspapers and radio stations made it possible for more people to come into terms with whatever was happening during the time. The use of media exposed the brutality perpetrated by the state and the KKK. The media presented the reality to the people. Various channels, such as NBC and CBS, described the experiences and encounters of the activists accurately. News reporters covered the mob violence experienced in Montgomery and the escort through Mississippi River (“Freedom Riders”). These events are believed to have empowered more movement leaders to pursue their rights.

Competing Strategies

The film explores how different groups used competing strategies to realize their objectives. For instance, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) chose to conduct a reconciliatory journey to ensure more people were informed about the existing discrimination in the country’s public transport. The strategy capitalized on the rulings made by the Supreme Court in Morgan vs. Commonwealth of Virginia and Boynton vs. Virginia (LaFayette and Johnson 22). The group embraced the use of training sessions and role-plays. However, the group chose not to engage in confrontation.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) emerged a few years later to support CORE’s agenda. However, these two groups of riders embraced a new strategy in an attempt to inform the whole country about the targeted agenda. The strategy was characterized by the use of boycotts and sit-ins. The ultimate goal was to cause confrontation and consequently attract the attention of more people across the nation (LaFayette and Johnson 59). Additionally, journalists from different media houses were allowed to be part of the riders. The strategy ensured that the freedom riders grabbed the desired national attention.

Advantages and Limitations

The non-violent strategy used by CORE from 1947 was advantageous since minimum casualties, assaults, and attacks were reported. Most of the riders were able to move from Washington to Jackson in Mississippi. The tactic managed to secure the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) ban on separation in different facilities (Schwartz 47). However, the limitation of the strategy was that it did not capture the attention of different media houses or the public. Additionally, the approach failed to attract more people and student activists to support the agenda.

The other two groups (SCLC and SNCC) were able to develop a new approach characterized by boycotts and sit-ins. The leaders of these riders encouraged more journalists to cover the events. Consequently, the combination of these approaches made it easier for more people to explore the violence and intolerance associated with racial segregation (Silver 67). Images and footages captured different events that could not have been described clearly using words. The Freedom Riders, therefore, succeeded because they engaged different media professionals. On the other hand, the boycotts and sit-ins led to disastrous confrontations between the riders and members of the KKK. More people were injured, attacked, and even arrested.

Today’s Civil Rights Movement

Although many people do not engage in interstate rides today, the agreeable fact is that the civil rights movement is an ongoing process today. For instance, more women are struggling with numerous social problems such as gender disparity and glass ceiling (Meyers 39). Society is also finding it hard to tolerate and support gays and lesbians, notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling legalizing same-sex marriages.


People of color and minority groups continue to fight for opportunities and various resources such as education, health care, and employment. It is evident that the social problems experienced in the 1960s might have changed significantly. However, it is agreeable that most of the challenges encountered today echo the ones targeted by these Freedom Riders.

Works Cited

Aretha, David. The Story of the Civil Rights Freedom Rides in Photographs. Enslow Publishers, 2014.

“Freedom Riders.” YouTube, uploaded by Socko Pricket. 2012, Web.

LaFayette, Bernard, and Kathryn Lee Johnson. In Peace and Freedom: My Journey in Selma. The University Press of Kentucky, 2013.

Meyers, Diana T. Poverty, Agency, and Human Rights. Oxford University Press, 2014.

Schwartz, Heather E. Freedom Riders: A Primary Source Exploration of the Struggle for Racial Justice (We Shall Overcome). Capstone, 2015.

Silver, Carol R. Freedom Rider Diary: Smuggled Notes From Parchman Prison. University Press of Mississippi, 2014.

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"The Documentary "Freedom Riders"." IvyPanda, 8 Oct. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/the-documentary-freedom-riders/.

1. IvyPanda. "The Documentary "Freedom Riders"." October 8, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-documentary-freedom-riders/.


IvyPanda. "The Documentary "Freedom Riders"." October 8, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-documentary-freedom-riders/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "The Documentary "Freedom Riders"." October 8, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-documentary-freedom-riders/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'The Documentary "Freedom Riders"'. 8 October.

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