Honor the Freedom Riders by Completing Their Work Today

On the 53rd anniversary of the Freedom Rides, we must honor these activists’ accomplishments and remember that their work isn’t done.

CORE freedom riders outside their bus, which had been firebombed, in Anniston, Ala., May 14, 1961 Library of Congress

The tactics and strategies that they used require updating for our own contemporary challenges, but the resilience, courage and tenacity that they displayed in the face of danger remain inspiring to this day. The civil rights saga that Freedom Riders did so much to contribute to continues in our own time, complete with villains and heroes, martyrs and nameless grassroots activists. The responsibility falls on contemporary activists, standing on the shoulders of elders, both living and dead, to utilize the example of the Freedom Riders to forge a movement for racial justice and equality that would make them proud.

Peniel E. Joseph, a contributing editor at The Root, is founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy and a professor of history at Tufts University. He is also the Caperton fellow for the W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute at Harvard University. He is the author of Waiting ’Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America, Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama and the newly released Stokely: A Life. Follow him on Twitter.

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