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At the beginning of the civil rights era in May 1961, a racially mixed group of men and women traveled by bus together from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans to test compliance with Supreme Court rulings that had outlawed segregated waiting rooms, lunch counters and restroom facilities for interstate passengers. By November 1961, more than 400 of these Freedom Riders had risked their lives, endured savage beatings and imprisonment.

A new PBS documentary titled "Freedom Riders" Directed by Stanley Nelson, premiers on May 16, 2011 the anniversary of the first ride.

The documentary highlights that although the Supreme Court outlawed segragation for interstate travel, the ruling was still widely ignored south of the Mason-Dixon Line. It took the action of the Freedom Riders to force the the Interstate Commerce Commission to take notice and finally outlaw discriminatory seating on public transport and enforce the removal of "whites only" signs from interstate bus terminals on Nov. 1, 1961.

"The first group of Freedom Riders were 12 individuals -- six blacks, six whites -- who got on Greyhound buses and Trailways buses and decided they're going to go from Washington, D.C., down to New Orleans," says Nelson. "They're going to sit together on the front of the buses. They're going to eat together in the restaurants in the bus stations. The white people are going to use the 'coloreds only' restrooms, the African-Americans are going to use the 'whites only' restrooms, and they're going to really test the law and see what happens."

The first bus carrying the Freedom Riders was firebombed and the Riders beaten so savagely that none of them could finish the journey. (more)

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Article by MICHAEL MURRAY, ABC News | Read full article here