This episode focuses on Sit-ins, Freedom Rides, and the mass involvement of young people across the country. At the same time, the lecture follows Martin Luther King, Jr., and his leadership during the late 1950s and early 1960s.
After the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, King's prominence as a civil rights leader continued to grow. Through his work for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), King collaborated with other movement leaders and began linking the southern black struggle to global politics and the universal human struggle for independence and justice. In March 1957, King traveled to Ghana to attend Ghana's independence ceremony. In February and March 1959, King spent several weeks in India deepening his understanding of Gandhi's nonviolence principles.
At the same time, the movement against segregation and racial injustice was gaining force, with young people organizing and challenging the status quo of inequality. In May 1956, students at Florida A&M University launched their own bus boycott, which soon spread to the city of Tallahassee. The following month, black activists in Alabama reacted to the state's banning of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) by forming the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights with Birmingham minister Fred Shuttlesworth as the leader. In Fall 1957, a group of black high school students, who became known as the Little Rock Nine, attempted to enter the formally all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. They wanted to test the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling that declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional. The dramatic events of the Little Rock School crisis, in which the black students braved violent white protesters, made headlines in the national and international press. Through the intervention of President Eisenhower and with the protection of federal troops, the students finally were able to enter the school. These and many other incidents attested to the growing impact of the civil rights activists.
In early 1960, a handful of black students in Greensboro, North Carolina, sat at the lunch counter reserved for white customers. This nonviolent protest action set a precedent for what became known as the sit-ins campaign. In April 1960, The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded by young people dedicated to nonviolent direct action tactics. Beginning in May 1961, student activists embarked on freedom rides, traveling on interstate buses to challenge segregation. The farther south the riders traveled, the more violence they encountered. On May 20, 1961, the freedom riders arrived in Montgomery. At the bus station, a white mob was waiting to attact them. The freedom riders were brutally beaten and wounded. While Martin Luther King, Jr., did not participate in the freedom rides, he addressed the violence during a rally at the First Baptist Church in Montgomery on May 21, 1961. As over fifteen hundred people filled the church, a white mob gathered outside, keeping the church occupants inside, until U.S. marshals and Alabama National Guard arrived the next morning to restore order.