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Let the Oppressed Go Free

From left to right:
Background Map: 1961 Freedom Rides. [New York]: Associated Press News Feature. Printed Map and Text, ca. 1962. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division (84.6).This Associated Press release includes a map and a descriptive text that illustrates the routes taken and the history behind the freedom rides. Together, the map and text record the individual cities visited, when and where violence occurred, and how many people were arrested.
Photo from Civil Rights Exhibit of Jim Zwerg. Wikimedia Commons, Jan. 9, 2003. On Oct. 20, 1961, at the bus station on South Court Street in Montgomery, Alabama, a white mob awaited and beat the Freedom Riders with baseball bats and iron pipes. The local police allowed the beatings to go on uninterrupted. Although reporters were also attacked and their cameras destroyed, some were able to take photos like this one of Freedom Rider Jim Zwerg.
Freedom Riders Stained Glass Window, Sage Chapel, Cornell University. This window at Sage Chapel, a gift of the Class of 1961, was installed in 1991 to honor the three Freedom Riders, from the top, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, who were killed during the 1964 voter registration drive in Mississippi. Schwerner was a member of Cornell’s Class of 1961.
Michael Schwerner, Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity. Michael Schwerner ’61 earned a degree in sociology from Cornell and later studied social work at Columbia University. He, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney were shot and killed in Philadelphia, Mississippi by members of the Ku Klux Klan. The three were in Mississippi as a part of “Freedom Summer,” an effort by Civil Rights activists to register African-Americans to vote. Schwerner’s only Cornell University photo on record is this Alpha Epsilon Pi image from the 1959 yearbook taken during his sophomore year. He is Fourth from left, top row. The Cornellian, v. 91, 1959.

In December 1960, the Supreme Court rules in Boynton v. Virginia, that segregation in inter-state travel is illegal, and that as a matter of Federal law, integrated travel on interstate buses and trains is a legal right. Separate white and colored toilets and dining rooms for inter-state travelers are outlawed; Travelers have the right to use whatever facilities they choose, and sit wherever they wish. In early 1961, CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) activist Tom Gaither proposed a “Freedom Ride” through Rock Hill, South Carolina, and elsewhere in the Deep South to test and implement the Boynton decision. The Freedom Riders’ tactics were to position themselves on inter-state buses, to have at least one interracial pair sitting in adjoining seats and at least one African-American Rider sitting up front in a seat usually reserved for white customers only. The rest would sit scattered throughout the bus. One Rider would abide by the southern segregation rules to avoid arrest and contact CORE to arrange bail for any Riders who had been arrested. They did not have much trouble in Virginia and North Carolina, but as the buses rolled deeper into the South, hostility increased. More than sixty Freedom Rides were made through the Deep South, and sent shock waves through American society. People worried that the Rides were evoking widespread social disorder and racial division. Yet Freedom Rides established great credibility between racial groups and inspired many to engage in direct action for civil rights. Their work inspired many subsequent civil rights campaigns, including voter registrations, Freedom Schools, and the Black Power movement.