Freedom Riders

Topics: Social movement, African American, Black people Pages: 5 (1693 words) Published: February 3, 2014

“A social movement is collectivity acting with some continuity to promote or resist a change in the society or group of which it is a part” (Turner & Killian) We hear about Civil Rights movements and their impact on the overall goal for African Americans. What it meant to a community; How it impacted the South; How it impacted the North; etc. Yet, what I find to be the most important type of movement isn’t the movements that catch the eye of the media, but what grasps the attention of the Government. As we may realize now, change in government is truly the only way we can strive for social change. People can protest, sit-in, boycott all they want but if it doesn’t directly affect the government, then what good is it really doing? Now, it is hard to say that any movement for the Civil Rights is more important than another, but what movements were able to provoke change in the government of the United States? What movements caught the Presidential Administrations eye and forced their hand to become a part of the movement? In addition, why exactly will a Government force change if this movement is played out to totality? For 6 months in the year of 1961 was one of the most vital Civil Rights movements that did exactly what needed to be done in order to provoke change in the Government. Over 400 activists gathered with hopes to make change; to allure the government; to redefine history. Both white and black civil rights activists traveled on busses starting in the north and going all the way through the heart of the south. They were beaten, ambushed, harassed and imprisoned but nothing seemed to affect the determination the “Freedom Riders” possessed. A clear violation of Jim Crow laws led to these beatings but it seemed to be well worth the pain for the change that they hope to embark on American history. In William Gamson’s article “The Success of the Unruly” he states an important concept, “…[Violence] is effective neither as a strategy of social influence when used by challenging groups nor as a strategy of repression when it is used by the enemies of such groups”(Gamson). Gamson is notifying his reader that in neither case has violence proven to be effective. The Freedom Riders were a non-violent protest. Although jailed, beaten, torched and attacked on numerous different occasions they refused to use violence “as a strategy of social influence”. On the other end the challenging group (Racists, police, KKK) practice violence as a “strategy of repression”. In one case the Freedom Rider bus was attacked and set on fire by the KKK while in Mississippi; however it did not stop the resilient group of 400 civil rights activists. Why were they doing this? What did it mean for them, and why did they feel that this was the most effective social movement they could have performed. The reason was plain explains Raymond Arsenault in his book “Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Justice”. Arsenault states, "It became clear that the civil rights leaders had to do something desperate, something dramatic to get Kennedy's attention. That was the idea behind the Freedom Rides—to dare the federal government to do what it was supposed to do, and see if their constitutional rights would be protected by the Kennedy administration," (Arsenault)

Former social movements were not exactly getting the attention of the President. The Freedom Rides grew to have such a nationally and even worldly media attention that it forced the hand of the administration. Kennedy could not sit in office and ignore the situation growing in his own country. Innocent people were being locked up imprisoned; beaten and set on fire all while he was focused on other foreign affairs. Kennedy had to act, eventually providing military escorts for the bus that bravely traveled through the south. His hand was forced for one major reason, it was in the constitution. The preventing of African Americans to ride the bus through state lines was a clear...

Cited: Turner, Ralph. Killian, Lewis. Collective Behavior. Canada: Pearson, 1987. Print.
Morris, Aldon. Frontiers in Social Movement Theory. 1st. Hartford: Yale University Press, 1992. 133-151. Print.
Bloom, Alexander. Takin ' to the Streets. Third. New York: Oxford Publishing Company, 2011. 109-112. Malcolm X. Ballot of the Bullet. Print.
Readings on Social Movements. Second. New York: Oxford Publishing Company, 2010. 518-522.Gamson, William. Success of the Unruly. Print.
Arsenault, Raymond. Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice. 2nd. New York: Oxford Publishing Company, 2007. Print.
Class Lecture 9/12
Class Lecture 10/1
American Experience. Freedom Riders. 2012. PBS. Film
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