PBS American Experience
Stanley Nelson

Freedom Riders

They called themselves the Freedom Riders, and they managed to bring the president and the entire American public face to face with the challenge of correcting civil-rights inequities that plagued the nation.

Freedom Riders, directed and produced by Stanley Nelson and presented by the acclaimed PBS series American Experience, is a two-hour documentary film about the hundreds of civil rights activists who challenged segregation in interstate transport in the American South during the spring and summer of 1961.

In 1961, during the first year of John F. Kennedy’s presidency, more than four hundred Americans participated in a bold and dangerous experiment designed to awaken the conscience of a complacent nation.

These self-proclaimed “Freedom Riders” challenged the mores of a racially segregated society by performing a disarmingly simple act. Traveling together in small interracial groups, they sat where they pleased on buses and trains and demanded unrestricted access to terminal restaurants and waiting rooms, even in areas of the Deep South where such behavior was forbidden by law and custom.Their efforts were met with extreme violence and brought international attention to the fight against segregation, exploitation and racism known as the Civil Rights Movement. Freedom Riders chronicles the story behind this courageous group of civil rights activists.

Freedom Riders garnered three Primetime Emmy Awards and was one of 16 films selected from 862 Submissions for the US Documentary Competition of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. The film was also an Official Selection of the 2010 Silverdocs Documentary Festival and the 2010 Full Frame Documentary Festival.


May 16, 2011




PBS American Experience



Stanley Nelson


Laurens Grant

Director of Photography

Robert Shepard


Lewis Erskine & Aljernon Tunsil

Original Concept

Paul Taylor

Original Music

Tom Phillips

Archival Producer

Lewanne Jones

Associate Producer

Stacey Holman

Exclusive Corporate Funding

Liberty Mutual

Major Funding Provided By

Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

Additional Funding By

National Endowment for the Humanities
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting
WGBH Documentary Investment Group