ISU professor presents film on ‘Freedom Riders’ legacy

Kelsey Batschelet

A documentary showing and discussion funded by the Created Equal Grant featured the movie “Freedom Riders,” which focused on activism during the civil rights movement.

Brian BehnkenCQ, associate professor of history, hosted the event Monday, Feb. 3 in the South Ballroom of the Memorial Union. Behnken is the recipient of the Created Equal Grant, which gives access to documentaries in places where the civil rights movement was not as prominent.

Behnken introduced the showing with a brief summary of the Freedom Riders movement, and said, “We’ve got a full house, which is great.”

Following Behnken’s introduction, about 100 minutes of the film was shown.

The film, based on Raymond ArsenaultCQ’s book “Freedom Riders”, showed how the movement came together, inspired by organizations like the Congress of Racial Equality. The first ride was in 1947, but did not gain significant attention until the activist movement in the 1950s and 1960s began to draw media attention.

“The riders combined the activism of the sit-ins and the Montgomery Bus Boycott,” said Behnken. Their goal was to ride Greyhound and Trailways buses across state lines and stage integrated sit-ins at the bus stations they stopped at.

The first ride left from Washington D.C., and drove through Anniston, Ala. where the integrated and nonviolent riders encountered mob violence. They pressed on and were confronted by the Ku Klux Klan in Birmingham, Ala.

The riders gained national attention, and support from other activists, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

After the showing, Behnken opened up the room for a question and answer session, encouraging students to voice their opinions and ask questions about the film and race.

As the discussion went on, more students had questions, which Behnken said he expected, “Once you have one person say something, other people will start to feel comfortable.”

Students asked about how to fight racism that they encounter in their daily lives, and told stories about their experiences with ignorance.

“We don’t think about buses burning, it’s all in the past, but these folks deserve to be honored and remembered, but also there’s kind of these real lived examples in our lives and communities,” Behnken said.

Esther Lee, a student who attended the event for class, said, she never knew about the Freedom Riders before, and speeches and Dr. Martin Luther King are all she had been taught.

Lee, who asked a question during the discussion, enjoyed the responses that other audience members had to the film. “It looks like we have the same basic idea; it’s good to confirm that.”