MCLA and WGBY to Screen 'Freedom Riders' in Murdock Hall: Panel Discussion to Include Local Freedom Riders


NORTH ADAMS, MA - Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) and public television station WGBY will present a screening of the Stanley Nelson film, "Freedom Riders," on Friday, March 4, at 3 p.m. in Murdock Hall, room 218, on the College campus. 

The screening, which will be followed by a panel discussion and question and answer session with three local Freedom Riders - Albert Gordon, Jean D. Thompson and Judy Frieze Wright - is free and open to the public.  

The film will run approximately 3-4:30 p.m., with the discussion to take place 4:30-5:30 p.m.  Dr. Frances Jones-Sneed, MCLA history professor, will moderate the panel with Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant, executive director and co-founder of Multicultural BRIDGE (Berkshire Resources for the Integration of Diverse Groups and Education). The panel also will include Dr. Ely Janis of the MCLA history department. 

Freedom Riders were civil rights activists, who, in 1961, began riding interstate buses into the segregated southern United States to challenge local laws or customs that enforced segregation after the newly inaugurated Kennedy administration - embroiled in the Cold War and worried about the nuclear threat - did little to address domestic civil rights, according to Sharron Zavattaro, an event organizer and director of MCLA's Career Services Center and the College's Study Abroad Programs. 

 "It became clear that civil rights leaders had to do something dramatic to get Kennedy's attention. That was the idea behind the Freedom Rides - to dare the federal government to do what it was supposed to do, so see if their constitutional rights would be protected," Zavattaro said. 

The Freedom Riders' actions tested the 1960 U.S. Supreme Court decision "Boynton v. Virginia," which outlawed racial segregation in the restaurants and terminals that served buses that crossed state lines.  

The self-proclaimed Freedom Riders came from throughout American society, Zavattaro said. "Black and white, young and old, male and female, northern and southern, they embarked on the ride, knowing the danger. They were firmly committed to the ideals of non-violent protest and aware that their actions could provoke savage response. They were willing to put their lives on the line for the cause of justice." 

The violent reactions they provoked supported the credibility of the American Rights Movement and brought national attention to segregation in the South. Riders were arrested for trespassing, unlawful assembly and violating state and local Jim Crow laws, among other offenses. In Mississippi, more than 300 were jailed. 

After nearly five months, on Sept. 22, 1961, the U.S. Interstate Commerce Commission issued its order to end the segregation in bus and rail stations, marking the first unambiguous victory in the Civil Rights Movement.

 "Freedom Riders" marks the third collaboration between WBGY and MCLA to bring film screening events to students and the Berkshire County community.