Inspiring a Nation
In 1961 hundreds of civil rights activists risked their lives to take a stand against discrimination during the Freedom Rides, a series of organized interracial bus trips through the deep South.
This week, 40 college students from around the nation, including Drake University sophomore Ryan Price, are retracing the route of the original Freedom Rides in honor of the 50th anniversary of the historic event.
Follow the 2011 Freedom Rides
Many historians credit the Freedom Rides as the turning point in the civil rights movement because it convinced its leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr., of the effectiveness of the nonviolent approach. The violent opposition to the rides — many riders were beaten and a bus was firebombed — shocked the nation, especially when contrasted with the riders’ passive resistance.
Throughout the 10-day journey, students will stop at museums and other points of historical significance for lessons and reflections and will have the opportunity to meet many of the original participants. The ride, sponsored by “American Experience” on PBS, will serve as a learning opportunity for the students as well as a launching point for a national discussion about the role of civic engagement in today’s society.
Price, the only Iowa college student to participate, was selected from a pool of more than 1,000 applicants. Inspired by the story of the original Freedom Riders, he hopes the experience will invigorate his commitment to and passion for current civil rights and social justice issues.
“The Freedom Rides and the civil rights movement are such iconic moments in American history,” he says. “Getting to experience it, even secondhand, will be incredibly inspiring as a current college student and as an American citizen.”
The original Freedom Rides, Price explains, are an important reminder that it is not just politicians and other high profile individuals who have the power to bring about social change.
“The students who participated in the original rides weren’t celebrities; they were just normal people,” he says. “They were everyday American citizens, and they changed the world.”
Price’s interest in politics and world events began at a young age when he would wake daily at 7 a.m. to catch the day’s headlines before heading to elementary school.
These days, his focus is on social justice — a concern that developed as a result of his own life experiences.
“Current events have been important to me for a long time, but social justice issues became more important to me after I reflected on my own experience coming out and wondered why it was so difficult,” he says. “You get to the point where you realize there isn’t something wrong with you, but there’s something society could be doing better. I realized that I could sit back and let someone else do something, or I could do something myself.”
To that end, Price has been active as an intern at the state capitol, a volunteer for One Iowa and a writer for Drake’s student newspaper, The Times-Delphic, where he often uses his column to encourage civic engagement. He serves as president of the fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon and has strengthened the organization’s commitments to community service initiatives. Price also founded and leads the Bulldog for a Day program, which brings underprivileged high school students to campus to see what college life is like.
Price thinks the Freedom Rides have the potential to “inspire, light a fire” among the students on the bus and says he is looking forward to the conversations the riders will be having about social change. He hopes the journey will demonstrate the ambition of many young Americans to make the world a better place.
“On the Freedom Rides, I will experience what I talk about in class every day, which excites me,” he says. “I hope to come back with a deeper understanding of American history and civic engagement, especially as it applies today.”