The Freedom Riders

Now that spring is in the air it’s time to start thinking about that next great road trip. In the coming weeks I’ll pack up the Jetta and head out on a tour of the adventure media and film festivals. Looking for stories that celebrate the active lifestyle and environmental conservation I’ll be reporting from the 5Points Festival in Carbondale Colorado and then the Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride. But as I’m making my plans I can’t help but think about how much our nation has changed over the past half century. Last year at Mountain Film I met a man who helped me put the freedom of road travel into a different perspective.

Earnest “Rip” Patton is from Nashville, Tennessee. He’s considered an historian and a civil rights activist of the last 50s and early 60s.  Fifty years ago Rip was among first wave of student activists who road on buses into the Southern United States in the spring of 1961. Called the Freedom Rides the plan was to organize demonstrations in protest of racial segregation.

“We were at the time when the Freedom Rides were first started by CORE Congress of Racial Equality on May 4th 1961 we were trying to desegregate the movie theaters downtown,” Rip said.

The protesters came south to challenge the laws that prevented blacks and whites from using common public facilities like lunch counters, swimming pools and yes movie theaters. That bus trip through the south was met with hostility and violence. Most of the Freedom Riders were put jail, many were badly beaten and several of them were killed. Ironically Rip is telling me his story at a festival where a film depicting events of his life called the Freedom Riders had just premiered. Fifty years earlier he and his friends struggled through the spring of 1961 simply for the right to even be in the audience.

Last year at Mountain Film in Telluride I talked to Rip about his experience as a Freedom Rider. At this celebration of adventure culture it seemed all too appropriate to showcase a film based our recent history where travel played such an important role. I also connected with German-American artist Charlotta Janssen who had on display an amazing gallery show of paintings based on the mug shots of the arrested protesters. Despite great opposition Rip and the Freedom Riders held their ground. Through non-violent protests they successfully lead the charge to desegregate the south and inspire a new generation to demand their civil rights. It’s only because of the sacrifices they made that any of us can enjoy the freedom to travel that we do today.


Music this week  by blues guitarist Big Bill Broonzy

The Joy Trip Project is made possible thanks to the support of our sponsor Patagonia

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I’m a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.