Fifty years ago this summer, hundreds of young people organized, rode buses into the deep South and got arrested for challenging Jim Crow segregation in inter-state transit. They were beaten, firebombed and imprisoned. The Freedom Riders knew full well they would not convince segregationist Southern politicians like Alabama’s Sheriff Bull Connor or Governor John Patterson to embrace integration.
Instead, they were pushing President John F. Kennedy, a civil rights ally, to use his power to end segregation in public transit throughout the South. President Kennedy asked for patience, and said he could not unilaterally make the changes they wanted. More young people boarded buses for the South, and filled the jails of Mississippi. Kennedy realized the time to act had come.This article was originally published in New America Media.