This Day in History: 1961-05-04

The first thirteen Freedom Riders depart Washington, D.C. (scheduled to arrive in New Orleans on May 17) on an interstate bus trip through the segregated southern United States to challenge the non-enforcement of the United States Supreme Court decisions banning segregated public buses. The Freedom Riders confronted the segregated status quo by riding interstate buses in the South in mixed racial groups to challenge local laws or customs that enforced segregation in seating. The Freedom Rides, and the violent reactions they provoked, bolstered the credibility of the American Civil Rights Movement. They called national attention to the disregard for the federal law and the local violence used to enforce segregation in the southern United States. Police arrested riders for trespassing, unlawful assembly, violating state and local Jim Crow laws, and other alleged offenses, but often coordinated with local Ku Klux Klan chapters to first allow white mobs to violently attack the Riders without intervention. Learn more.