On May 4, 1961, young black and white activists left Washington, DC to travel by bus into the South. Along the way, these “Freedom Riders” would test local compliance with federal laws against racial segregation.
After enduring violent attacks in Alabama, they arrived in Jackson where they were immediately arrested and jailed. When they chose to serve their time instead of post bail, organizers saw a new way to protest. More Freedom Riders arrived, until local jails could not hold them all.
More than three hundred were sent to Parchman Farm, where their abusive treatment outraged the world. At first, President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy were neutral, or even critical of the Freedom Riders. Soon, though, the Kennedys ordered authorities to enforce existing laws against segregated interstate travel terminals. It was a major turning point in the Civil Rights struggle.
For more interesting facts about Mississippi's 200-year history, watch a new interstitial each week of 2017 with Mississippi: A Thread Through Time on MPB Television.