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40 college students chosen for PBS' Freedom Riders

Posted on April 11, 2011

PBS' acclaimed TV show "American Experience" announced that 40 college students have been selected for the 2011 Student Freedom Ride, an experiential learning opportunity for college students in conjunction with the broadcast of Freedom Riders and the 50th anniversary of the original May 1961 Freedom Rides.

Over a 10-day journey from May 6 to 16, the Ride will be a moving classroom in which 40 college students from across the country will retrace the route of the original Freedom Rides. Accompanied by filmmaker Stanley Nelson, original Freedom Riders and others, the Ride will engage students in this important era in our country's history, as they learn about the extraordinary commitment and courage of the individuals who took part in the Freedom Rides.

The Ride will also serve as a means of launching a national conversation about the role of civic engagement in a thriving democracy, explore what issues inspire students to "get on the bus" today, and look at what forms civic engagement is taking on campuses and in communities across the country.

The 40 Student Freedom Riders were chosen from nearly 1,000 applicants and represent a diverse cross-section of America, much like the original Freedom Riders, who were black and white, men and women, and who, in 1961, used public transportation as a means of challenging segregation in the South. The students hail from 33 states and the District of Columbia, along with others who grew up in China, Tajikistan and Haiti.

Students from a broad range of schools are represented — from state universities to community and junior colleges, from religiously affiliated schools to the Ivy League. Students were selected on the basis of their essays on their reasons for wanting to participate, their thoughts on the role of social media and technology in civic engagement today, and their extracurricular activities.

The original Freedom Riders who will join the students (many of whom were college students themselves in 1961) will share their memories of this bold and dangerous experiment in the fight for equal rights. Students will also meet with today's leaders in civic engagement.

Among the highlights of the trip will be events at Atlanta's Morehouse College with original Freedom Rider Bernard Lafayette, a ribbon cutting at the Anniston Bus Station, the town where one of the buses was firebombed in 1961 and a presentation at Vanderbilt University's First Amendment Center by John Seigenthaler.

Events will also take place at Montgomery's historic First Baptist Church, where the original Freedom Riders, along with Martin Luther King Jr. and 1,500 others, were trapped by a mob until the Kennedy Administration summoned federal marshals, marking a turning point in the civil rights movement.

The Student Freedom Ride will end in New Orleans on May 16 with a public event and rally to welcome the students and the original Freedom Riders 50 years later. The acclaimed film Freedom Riders, directed by Stanley Nelson, will premiere on "American Experience" Monday, May 16 at 9:00 p.m. ET on PBS.

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