Democracy in Action: A Study Guide to Accompany the Film FREEDOM RIDERS

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Developed in partnership with PBS's AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, the guide Democracy in Action supports educators and students in their use of the documentary Freedom Riders. This film tells the powerful story of the Freedom Riders taking brave and decided actions to dismantle the structures of discrimination—specifically segregated interstate bus travel—through nonviolence.

Democracy in Action prompts students to consider the relationship between the political context in which the Rides took place and the stories and motivations of those who became Freedom Riders. The guide begins with an exploration of the identity and choices of the Riders. Then students explore the greater context of the Rides from the institutionalized and culturally-accepted racism of Jim Crow South to the adoption of nonviolent direct action to inspire social change. From this groundwork, students analyze the complexities of the relationships between the Kennedy administration, the media, and the activists in the ultimately successful desegregation of buses and bus facilities.

Features include:

  • Introduction by Raymond Arsenault, author of Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice.
  • Primary source readings, including interviews with Freedom Riders, press releases and clippings, and a conversation between Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Attorney General Robert Kennedy.
  • Web resources from WGBH Teachers’ Domain and PBS's AMERICAN EXPERIENCE.
  • Historic photographs chosen to prompt additional student reflection.
  • Connections questions to stimulate classroom discussions.
  • Film time codes and selected film excerpts for each section of the guide.

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