Traveling Down Freedom’s Main Line: The Freedom Rides at 50

Saturday, May 7, 2011 @ 10:30am

Event Info


FREE - Reservations Required


DuSable Museum of African American History

740 East 56th Place





Chicago Public Media (WBEZ-Chicago)

The Off-Air Event Series extends your WBEZ listening experience to nights on the town – come see what you’ve been hearing and celebrate Chicago! Beginning September 2010 and continuing through June 2011, a wholly unique live experience will be yours to enjoy. Each month promises to be different and something not to miss—with discounted tickets for WBEZ members.


The year 2011 marks the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides – a historic movement which took place from May to November 1961, when over 400 mostly young Americans risked their lives and freedom to challenge the Jim Crow travel laws that remained in force throughout the South. These ‘Freedom Riders’ were committed to non-violent action, yet faced savage beatings, angry mobs, and imprisonment on their journeys.  Their efforts ultimately prompted Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to confront the Interstate Commerce Commission with its failure to enforce federal law, ending Jim Crow laws in interstate public transportation.

The courage of the Freedom Riders in facing such dangers inspired people in both the north and south to become involved in the civil rights movement. Notable Freedom Riders include Congressman John Lewis, Stokely Carmichael, James Peck, and Jim Farmer.

The Freedom Riders story is so moving, so compelling, that it calls for celebration and greater exploration into the impact of these young activists and their actions. Three organizations have been commissioned to create new works of literature and theater – which will debut at this event – that are inspired by the Freedom Riders and that honor the legacy of the movement: Congo Square Theatre, Neighborhood Writing Alliance, and Young Chicago Authors. The event will be hosted by WBEZ's Richard Steele.

As inspiration for their work, each commissioned group has screened the new Stanley Nelson documentary, Freedom Riders, produced by WGBH Boston’s American Experience.  Created to honor of the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, the film is based on the award-winning book by the same name, written by Raymond Arsenault, PhD, the John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History at USF St. Petersburg. Stanley Nelson is a 2002 MacArthur Fellow known for groundbreaking historical documentaries. Nelson won a Primetime Emmy in Best Direction, nonfiction, for his film, The Murder of Emmett Till, which reopened the investigation of Till’s murder.
Clips from the film will be screened at this event.

To offer our audience an opportunity to see the film in its entirety, WBEZ is sponsoring a screening of Freedom Riders on Saturday, April 9th also at the DuSable Museum of African American History. Click here for more information.

About Freedom Riders, Nelson says: “We felt that the story of the Freedom Riders had not been explored, and that it was an important human story about the beginning of what came to be known as the Civil Rights Movement.  We wanted to tell the story from as many different sides as possible. We wanted to include the voices of not only Freedom Riders but those who opposed them. We wanted voices of Southern Politicians and the Kennedy administration.”

On stage:

Congo Square Theatre is an ensemble theatre company that produces definitive and transformative theatre spawned from the African diaspora as well as other world cultures.

Neighborhood Writing Alliance provokes dialogue and promotes change by creating opportunities for adults in Chicago to write, publish, and perform works about their lives.

Young Chicago Authors (YCA) encourages self-expression and literacy through creative writing, performance and publication. YCA provides student-centered, artist-led workshops free to youth ages 13-19 in local schools and communities.

FREE - Reservations Required

Click here to reserve a seat

This program is co-sponsored by the DuSable Museum of African-American History, The Chicago Freedom School, University of Chicago Center for the Study of Race Politics and Culture, Congo Square Theatre, Free Street Theatre, Neighborhood Writing Alliance and Young Chicago Authors, and generously supported by the Field Foundation of Illinois and the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.