Freedom Riders

“Freedom Riders” is a nonfiction story written by Rhonda Brownstein that appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of Teaching Tolerance. 
Rhonda Brownstein
Grade Level

Have you ever taken a ride on an airplane?

These days, when people want to travel a long way, they take an airplane. But once, not so long ago really, only rich people flew in airplanes. Most people took a train or a bus.

Back then, if you came here — to the Montgomery Greyhound station — you’d see lots of people coming in and out. It was a busy place, like an airport. But you’d notice something really strange. Something that you’ve never seen before.

See that old, bricked-up doorway there? Once, not so long ago really, that was an open door. And there, where you see those little holes above the door, was a sign that said “Colored Entrance.” That’s what was strange about this place. There was one door for white people and one door for black people. And if you went inside, there was one water fountain for black people and another one for white people. There was even one part of the bus for black people and another part of the bus for white people.

A lot of people knew this was ridiculous. But some people thought things should stay the way they were. Some people said things had always been this way, though that wasn’t true. Some people said bad things would happen if black people and white people ate and drank and rode the bus together, but that wasn’t true. There were plenty of places in the world where people of different colors lived side by side in harmony.

So one day, a group of young people — both black and white — decided they would change things. They decided to get on a bus and travel across the South together. They decided to come right to this bus station and walk in and out of any door they pleased. They called themselves the Freedom Riders.

It wasn’t easy. Like I said, there were people who didn’t want things to change, and these people heard the Freedom Riders were coming, and this made them angry.

Before the Freedom Riders even got to Montgomery, someone stopped them and set fire to their bus. But the Freedom Riders didn’t fight back, and they didn’t stop. They got on a new bus and kept on going, across the South.

When they got to Birmingham, an angry mob beat them. But the Freedom Riders didn’t hit back and they didn’t stop. They just kept on going, across the South. And when the Freedom Riders got here, right where you are sitting, they met the angriest mob of all. The Freedom Riders got hurt really badly.

But they didn’t stop. They just kept on going, across the South.

The angry mob thought they had won. But people across America and across the world saw what happened in Montgomery, and they didn’t like it.The President of the United States saw what happened, and he didn’t like it. So they all said “Stop!” and made sure that no bus station could have separate doors and bathrooms and waiting rooms anywhere in America.

That’s why there are bricks filling this doorway that used to say “Colored Entrance.” That’s why if you go to a bus station today, everybody goes in and out the same door, and everybody rides together on the bus.

And this bricked-up door will never, ever be opened again.

Copyright © Teaching Tolerance.
Text Dependent Questions
  1. Question
    Who were the Freedom Riders?
    They were white and black people who rode a bus across the South together and planned to go to the Montgomery
    Greyhound Bus Station and walk in any door—both those for white and black people.
  2. Question
    In your own words, describe what happened to the Freedom Riders as they traveled across the South.
    Angry people set fire to their bus and they got hurt by an angry mob in Birmingham. But it didn’t stop them, and they
    didn’t fight back. They just kept going.
  3. Question
    What does it mean that a doorway in the Montgomery bus station is “bricked-up”? Why has the door been
    It means that bricks have been put where the doorway used to be, so you can no longer walk through it. It was
    bricked-up because the bus station became desegregated, and white and black people could use the same doorways.
Reveal Answers