thumbnail of American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Clayborne Carson, 1 of 4
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it's this well first of all that that decision opened up the arm that whole question of moving around freely in the united states and being able to do that without being subject to jim crow laws and that was a crucially important i think for african americans just the ability to move about the united states was a large part of freedom that's how we most of us gained a measure of freedom was to be able to move out of the south to the north to move from the rural areas to the cities and two to be able to do that without being subjected to grating lost that was that was very important service was a preacher oh yeah
this is ok willie irene morgan decision meant that the law was on the side of those who wanted to move about without being subject to jim crow laws that enforcement of the law was another thing that a lot of things were on the books ah but the people willing to toss them to i'll be able to make the city into a reality so that took a long time after irene morgan took the first step but it took more than a decade to own to actually make that into something that was enforceable throughout the united states oh yeah
i think in nineteen sixty one dave the situation was that's the palm we have a day strong feeling among african americans about the question of moving about an interstate commerce because italy's that area had been opened up by the supreme court decision on the martin case i am but and foerster that had been really delayed and in the federal government and it'd be pressured into making a reality so on so i think as we move from the fifties to the sixties what we're seeing is that a large expectation of change but i think the reality for many young people is wiser taken so long why is it taken so long to get the federal government to enforce its decisions boies had taken so long to get the federal government to comment on the side of the civil rights struggle
or do question i think there was a feeling there are changes on the horizon just a question of how fast was that change going to happen and what was i going to take two are to push forward mean when you think about it you know after world war two it at the soldiers coming back people like my father who came back with an expectation that things were going to be better than it than the double vee campaign during the war there was the changes that were going on in the world with me independence movements in africa and asia are you have all these indications that changes is coming on but a thing for especially for young people question was wiser taken so long winded why are we still waiting for change that should have happened years ago and then also you have african americans are becoming much more mobile more people have been outside of the cell
so they they know that things are not always sound the same especially when you get beyond beyond the cell so so this this mobility was was creating a new expectation of change so many of the people who would be involved in the struggles of those of the late nineteen fifties and sixties had traveled in the north and had seen that that that the conditions were different there and they came back with a new sense of frustration about where things are still the same in the south has the lead you know it i prefer to call it the african american freedom struggle rather than a civil rights movement because it was really over wide variety of things that we're changing it wasn't just the demand for civil rights legislation ii i think that the push for better jobs for better housing to to be able to get access to things
that don't work we're closed off before you know there's this sense that there were all these barriers to african american advancement and that we had to overcome those barriers i know when i was growing up there was always this the sense of you pick up the paper and they're always be the first negro to do this or the first negro to make break this barrier so that there was that sense that the barriers were being overcome and and i think that dollar build up an expectation that there would be even more change on the nineteen sixties they're trying to get the idea that this point you know what we call the straw poll there were at that point there were isolated events are more connected to the organization you know
it is that we now know i like i think the way i would describe it is that but there was a sense that we knew where we were heading we wanted to achieve advancement but the question is what was the vehicle that was gonna get us there that i think we were still looking around for what what kinds of strategy what kinds of tactics would work and of course at the beginning of the nineteen sixties because of the cold war basically at the end of all a sleepy at the national level having the field to itself and their emphasis was on lobbying and litigation the problem with that for most african americans was that it left out popular agitation you know that had been identified as a left wing kind of approach so i think with the montgomery bus boycott that kind of reawaken that sense that that you you gotta mobilize the masses of african americans in order to two push this change and make it go faster
yes were there in marshall was doing was very important and we all plotted the brown decision but it was going to take many many people to actually implement that decision and so that's what we were talking about him and nineteen fifties was who was going to do that wasn't going to be and often it turned out that it was young people on barbara johnson island and virginia who will lead a walkout of students attend segregated schools it was the little rock nine was it was young people who even in montgomery it was the young people who were first even before rosa parks to refuse to accept the sex segregated seating on the bus and i were arrested for that say see this missile desire for change and i think people were trying to find what is what is going to be a tactic it's going to actually work and then i think that that was really discovered with the city and because that was the tactic that
young people who could you know could do just as well as anyone else and they've been approved to be quite effective prove to be quite popular because it was so it was so easy for people to do and as long as she accepted the reality that you're going to go to jail and got over the fear of going to jail you can push change along so i think that that demand for freedom now that it did it's not later about the gradual pace but freedom now that was that was an event and at this point there is that there is this kind of universal and greg think this is this is a tactic that's accepting it was it was a risk
well i think the freedom ride was sought was a brilliant tactic because the movement i kind of reached a turning point you know that there are number of crucial turning points in the long history of the freedom struggle of african americans and mit and i think they early sixties was one of those turning points when it was sort of a question of here you heard montgomery where you have a black community mobilized for a preterm eighty one days achieve a victory but the momentum from a montgomery seem to have been lost by the late nineteen fifties it was just not clear how that how do you move from that to something else and my own and it took them young people to discover that you needed to have a tactic that that mobilized new segments of the black community that hadn't been mobilized before and particularly the young and not a tactic that would put the people
supporting segregation on the defensive and that and i think the freedom ride was was another one of those tactics because here you have the law on the side of those people take in the freedom ride in a sense the morgan decision you'd had the supreme court saying that african americans should have the right to travel interstate commerce without jobs facing jim crow laws that the federal government was not enforcing that so here was a situation where the people can come on the ride and force the federal government to intervene on their behalf and despite the fact that the kennedy administration wanna do everything other than get involved and desegregation and so this was something that that put the pressure on them and and what once i think young people figured out that they have the federal government on the defensive
in terms of taking a stand as well as a tactic that but really the south really didn't know how to handle what what do you do you do you support mobs in and attacking the freedom riders you know well you know that's possible but it gets you some terrible publicity not simply the united states but abroad so so this was a really brilliant move yes this is weekend edition
i think of john f kennedy had had his way of civil rights where state a back burner issue that could cause it was really concerned about was winning the cold war he was far more focused on international issues and perhaps on the broader issues of the american economy but not on civil rights that was a distraction and has been a distraction for every democratic president since roosevelt since roosevelt brought black people into the democratic coalition a nineteen thirty six every democratic president had faced a dilemma that the the base of the democratic party were his black votes in the north and segregation as white votes in the south and how do you pull these factions together well the only way you pull them together is to deemphasize the issue of civil rights that that that's a very destructive issue that is going to divide this
essential coalition at the base of the democratic party now that's a that's a problem that truman faced and that's a problem that john kennedy placed in here is at a northern democrat who relies on the south for support this program and we're not just talking about the south is a region obviously we're talking about the white south because white people dominated the political the political parties of the self the democratic party was basically the only party in the cell and it was a white political party so all of the political power of the self was based on the fact that because it's a one party region southern senators and representatives have extraordinary power in congress
and no democratic president can get anywhere without their support so it's going well you know i think that he understood that perhaps on the issue of voting rights there might be a way of getting a bill through like the island even eisenhower been able to get a civil rights bill through during the late nineteen fifties with democratic support because it focused on voting rights and there was there was less emotional and that is you even know in the south we understood that ultimately that was really the crucial issue and i think he understood that that was a crucial issue and he gives a speech hollande saying their caregivers the boat and we'll take care of the rest basically i'm so voting rights
was an issue that didn't generate the same kinds of emotions and was emotions that i'll kennedy was afraid would divide the democratic party and and really make it impossible for the democratic party to remain the majority coalition are so i think that that was that i was the crucial dilemma and told johnson that dilemma was really faced so it is i think that tom kennedy made it very clear to the young people in select that the administration would support them to the extent that they would focus on issues like voting rights now that became more clear after the freedom rights but even before the freedom rides kennedy had to have really made his
agenda pretty evident that the issue of desegregation was something that should be humble very gradually and and even the sit ins were an embarrassment as kennedy found out from the arrest of martin luther king in atlanta which became a presidential issue and that he didn't even want to get involved in a nineteen sixty so in nineteen sixty one the last thing he wanted was another issue that that brought desegregation to before and all the emotions associated with desegregation house might've been even more so you just never know how that might have played itself out that a race going on here
well i think it was the idea of effort of the idea of freedom rides was song was radical i mean if it was a test of something that everyone knew legally might be possible but i think every african american at that point knew that you might have legal laws on the books but when you get to the deep south it's another country and particularly when you get to alabama mississippi you know i think for most of us growing up during that period the last thing we wanted a last we lived in alabama mississippi less than one there was visit there because we all are the story of anna tell him what happened to have so so it was it was a place that provoke fear an event even among people who work in the the struggle itself you know there was there was a sense that maybe we should focus on makeup or sell the urban sell try to get more people registered to vote
try to bring about some desegregation in places like nashville are no other places that were outside the deep self awareness events and nineteen sixty and now a mississippi you know the sound they were very very few and alabama so these were areas where the green movement as it existed then had not really arrived in mississippi had not really a ride in the whirl areas of the deep south so so this was something new and we were right i think that the idea of going to mississippi was going to be this was the ultimate test of whether these rights that are on the books with respect interstate travel mean anything it is
a former president who is a massive protection it's just to give a sense that things were twelve thirteen people who were getting our public buses no no protection no no major national press and you know it was just denial we're going to do it well the result of a freedom riders were not simply going up along they knew that they were taking their lives in their own hands this was something that even someone who believed in the idea of exercising their rights wherever you are and i states knew that you were risking your life by doing it in an alabama mississippi and they were and i think we notice them in how it turned out but i think there is that
expectation right at the beginning of a most of them when they are and that the final dinner and him washington dc before leaving on the ride they knew that you know that this might be the last drive they would take and for some of the mccain coaster i think also the idea that the heart is they're just the laws so do well you know i think that song to to be quite blunt about this at the ride wouldn't work together no nothing happened to me and i think there was an expectation that there would be resistance and that you had to face that and i think most of the people on that first ride had a strong belief in the principles of nonviolence they would've
that would've been a violation of the principle of non violence if you come down with protection argue it required police to be present in order to exercise your right because you would know that that's not really you haven't really made a breakthrough because the next person and exploit person who tried to use the restroom would have the protection so you had to do it without protection you had to calm down man face whatever you're going to face because that was the only way of breaking open that barrier for everyone who would fall so it's all part of working to do it it was hard i think you're right i've been the idea was to prepare the way for everyone who would come later for four that's solitary collectors riding on a bus who would come and they were terminal
and the case was segregated facilities and that person would not have any protection so the freedom riders in order to make the breakthrough that one today and to do it now without any kind of armed protection they had to face whatever they were going to face and and supper whatever they were going to suffer because of that was necessary to to make that ultimate breakthrough for me this is well i i think that after armed montgomery the of the movement really went through a quiet stage and told both assailants and sedans were very dispersed and here is this group of core which it in nineteen sixty one is not really a well known civil rights were certainly does well known as the inability hero
martin luther king in the sclc i am and so the freedom ride really was a a group that had an chapters in the north but not really very much presence in the south all making its first major foray into this region of the country and i don't think three national press knew what to make of it you know what what were they going to do and camaraderie pride themselves on the b in all the places where the writers were going to come and i think that the kind of coverage that we see by the time of birmingham later was just not present in the early nineteen sixties that this is this is basically a minor story at the national level and it becomes of the national story only when the federal government really has put on the spot and that's what makes it a national star
well in the national press when way when we think about the freedom rides that there were any prominent national reporters covering the civil rights be and that is something that happens in part because of the freedom rides that you have all people who are often based in the southern bureau isn't important papers and they only gradually begin to read recognize that this is a great news story and this is one of the most important stories that is going on at that time that's not true in the early nineteen sixties because it's not a win drawing the attention of the federal government and the kennedy administration wow so the press is not going to move toward extensive coverage of this and tell it really gets the attention of the kennedy administration
oh it is the national press was was not really devoted to civil rights issue because so this was an issue that they saw as very localized the sit ins a band you know and all these various communities but it isn't really not a national impact but most a local impact soviet base of a civil rights some movement as says this minor story um and they really didn't understand how it was going to become a national story in the freedom rides were part of that that story of how a local campaign became national because it got the attention of the federal government particularly of the candidates we're
happy is getting wrong is all right the day is no word slut walk the press wasn't interested because core was a minor organization chapters in the north but very few in the south i had never really have very much impact in the south there was no way of knowing that at the beginning of the freedom ride that this was going to be a national story this was something that it didn't seem like a relatively minor diversion from mulberry the other parts of the civil rights movement basically school segregation which was the
Series
American Experience
Episode
Freedom Riders
Raw Footage
Interview with Clayborne Carson, 1 of 4
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WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
AAPB ID
cpb-aacip/15-mg7fq9r770
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Description
Clayborne Carson is an African-American professor of history at Stanford University, and director of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute.
Topics
History
Race and Ethnicity
Subjects
American history, African Americans, civil rights, racism, segregation, activism, students
Rights
(c) 2011-2017 WGBH Educational Foundation
Media type
Moving Image
Duration
00:29:33
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Release Agent: WGBH Educational Foundation
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WGBH
Identifier: barcode357656_Carson_01_SALES_ASP_h264 Amex 1280x720.mp4 (unknown)
Duration: 0:29:03

Identifier: cpb-aacip-15-mg7fq9r770.mp4 (mediainfo)
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Duration: 00:29:33
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Citations
Chicago: “American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Clayborne Carson, 1 of 4,” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 9, 2020, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-mg7fq9r770.
MLA: “American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Clayborne Carson, 1 of 4.” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. July 9, 2020. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-mg7fq9r770>.
APA: American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Clayborne Carson, 1 of 4. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-mg7fq9r770