Freedom Rides

1961–1962

Throughout the summer of 1961 CORE and other civil rights organizations coordinated additional Freedom Rides, including two well-publicized trips from Washington, D.C., through South Carolina.

The Freedom Rides were a series of bus trips through the South designed to force compliance with U.S. Supreme Court decisions of 1947 and 1960 banning segregation in interstate bus travel. On May 4, 1961, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) launched the first Freedom Ride, sending an interracial group of thirteen on commercial buses from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans, Louisiana. The route included stops in Rock Hill, Winnsboro, and Sumter, South Carolina.

The South Carolina portion of the trip saw the first instance of violent southern opposition. At the Greyhound station in Rock Hill, white youths assaulted three of the Freedom Riders as one African American rider approached the “white” waiting room. Police intervened before any serious injuries occurred and made no arrests. The Freedom Rides passengers next arrived in Winnsboro, where police arrested and subsequently released black riders after they requested service at a lunch counter reserved for whites. No violence or arrests were reported at Sumter, the last stop in South Carolina before the riders entered Georgia. The most serious resistance occurred in Alabama, where whites burned one bus and assaulted riders on both, temporarily interrupting the journey.

The violence in Alabama caught public attention and transformed the Freedom Rides into a national campaign. Throughout the summer of 1961 CORE and other civil rights organizations coordinated additional Freedom Rides, including two well-publicized trips from Washington, D.C., through South Carolina. The first, comprised of ministers and rabbis, stopped briefly in Sumter on the way to Tallahassee, Florida. The second, made up of professionals and representatives from organized labor, stopped overnight in Charleston before continuing on to St. Petersburg, Florida. Police escorted both Freedom Rides for most of the journey; riders in both used the facilities at bus stations in Charleston and Sumter without serious incident.

The later Freedom Rides did not generate the same level of media coverage or public sympathy as CORE’s original project. Nevertheless, they constituted part of a larger campaign that forced the federal government to take action against segregated transportation. In September 1961, acting on U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s request, the Interstate Commerce Commission issued an order banning segregation in interstate travel facilities. Additional Freedom Rides tested southern compliance, reporting desegregated travel terminals in most southern communities by the end of 1962.

Barnes, Catherine A. Journey from Jim Crow: The Desegregation of Southern Transit. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.

Lewis, John. Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Peck, James. Freedom Ride. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1962.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Freedom Rides
  • Coverage 1961–1962
  • Author
  • Keywords series of bus trips through the South designed to force compliance with U.S. Supreme Court decisions of 1947 and 1960 banning segregation in interstate bus travel, Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Interstate Commerce Commission
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date March 3, 2024
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 3, 2022
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