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BLOG: Get on the bus, watch this movie

Tom Jackson • Sep 15, 2011 at 4:49 PM

The other day, my wife and I saw one of the best documentaries ever, "American Experience: Freedom Riders."

Ann and I had planned to watch the movie as a serial, taking in part of it one night and then finishing it the next night. We were so riveted we wound up watching it all the way through.

Although I do know a little bit about the civil rights struggle in America in the 1950 and 1960s, I admit that I did not know that much about the Freedom Riders — groups of black and whites who rode together on buses through the South in an attempt to integrate the interstate bus system.

Many of them were beaten and quite a few almost burned to death when a bus was set on fire in Alabama. They finally won when the Kennedy administration, prodded by all of the bad publicity, persuaded the Interstate Commerce Commission to integrate the bus lines.

The movie is a testament to the power of courage, and the power of ideas. It also offers insight into the political process. It's fascinating to see Robert Kennedy, President Kennedy's attorney general, referring to the riders as "so-called Freedom Riders" and telling them to stop their protests.

The movie has more narrative drive than most documentaries I've seen -- I had to keep watching to see how it came out. There's also an exciting Alabama vs. Mississippi competition, as the two states compete for the coveted "Worst State in the South" title.

Many of the reporters who tried to cover the events also faced beatings. Herb Kaplow, one of the network news people featured in the documentary, is the grandfather of Sara Kaplow, a web developer at this Web site.

"American Experience: Freedom Riders" is available as a free online movie, streamed to your computer. DVDs are available by reserving a copy at local CLEVNET libraries, such as Sandusky, Huron and Bellevue.

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