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PBS | Eyes on the Prize | America's Civil Right Years 1954-1965 | Ain't Scared of Your Jails (1960-1961) | Season 1 Episode 3 (1987) 55 min.

Synopsis

One in this series of documentaries that examine the African-American civil rights movement. The program includes interviews and archival footage, accompanied by narration. This episode centers around the national boycotts, the sit-ins, and the Freedom Rides, which forced the U.S. to reconsider segregation laws and enforce already existing civil rights laws. The program begins in Nashville, Tennessee, where student groups organized sit-ins at segregated eating establishments. Activists Leo Lillard, John Lewis, and Diane Nash recall the realities of segregation as well as the first sit-ins, which took the city by surprise. And merchant Bernie Schweid explains why activists were not taken seriously initially. When demonstrators were attacked by a mob of youths, the demonstrators were arrested for disorderly conduct in spite of the fact that they practiced a policy of non-violence. But when the house of Nashville community leader Alexander Luby was bombed, that violent act unified students and the local community, resulting in a peaceful march and a boycott of downtown businesses. The march reached City Hall, where Rev. C.T. Vivian publicly condemned Mayor West. Footage follows of WestÕs forced statement recognizing the unfairness of segregated businesses, and the statement made by Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., regarding the need for a nationwide boycott of stores in the South which practiced discrimination. With the support of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the guidance of Ella Baker, a prominent figure in the civil rights movement who helped found the SCLC, the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) developed. Meanwhile, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was arrested at an Atlanta sit-in, urging the campaigning John F. Kennedy to demonstrate his support for the civil rights movement, in order to secure the black vote. Next, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) director James Farmer comments on the Freedom Rides, which were designed to force the federal government to support the civil rights movement. Then there is a discussion about the Freedom Rides which includes the following: descriptions of the violence that Freedom Riders encountered in Birmingham, Alabama; footage of Alabama Governor John Patterson condoning violence against "outside agitators"; an indication of Assistant U.S. Attorney General Burke MarshallÕs belief that the FBI had knowledge of the Ku Klux KlanÕs plans to attack the Freedom Riders; the recollections of John Seigenthaler, former executive assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, regarding the negotiations between the federal government and Governor Patterson about the protection of activists, who were vulnerable to mob brutality; Freedom Rider Frederick LeonardÕs description of the violence in Jackson, Mississippi; and clips of beaten Rider Jim Zwerg. The program concludes with information regarding the eventual victory gained by the movement. Repeated violence against the Freedom Riders and hundreds of arrests of activists led Robert Kennedy to arrange for state and federal troops to protect the Riders, and to petition the Interstate Commerce Commission to enforce federal regulations banning segregated interstate travel.