In 1961, segregation seemed to have an overwhelming grip on American society. Many states violently enforced the policy, while the federal government, under the Kennedy administration, remained indifferent, preoccupied with matters abroad. That is, until an integrated band of college students — many of whom were the first in their families to attend a university — decided, en masse, to risk everything and buy a ticket on a Greyhound bus bound for the Deep South. 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 is the powerful harrowing and ultimately inspirational story of six months in 1961 that changed America forever. From May until November 1961, more than 400 black and white Americans risked their lives—and many endured savage beatings and imprisonment—for simply traveling together on buses and trains as they journeyed through the Deep South. Deliberately violating Jim Crow laws, the Freedom Riders met with bitter racism and mob violence along the way, sorely testing their belief in nonviolent activism.

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE has announced that 40 college students have been selected for the 2011 Student Freedom Ride, in conjunction with the PBS premiere of Freedom Riders, and the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Freedom Rides. The Student Ride will retrace the route of the original Rides and will launch a national conversation about the role of civic engagement in today’s democracy. Included on the trip is University of Kansas student William Dale (pictured), class of 2014. Will is from Topeka and his major is English, American Studies with a concentration in Race and Ethnicity.

As Henry David Thoreau once said, “Be not simply good – be good for something.” This quote serves as inspiration for Will Dale as he begins his quest for justice for all. Will is particularly interested in issues such as education and homelessness, and he seeks to explore and find solutions for the disparities he sees. The Student Freedom Ride will provide Will with a forum to discuss these issues with civic engagers on the national stage.

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is underwritten locally on KTWU by Footprints and Frieden, Unrein, Forbes and Biggs.

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, Monday, May 16, 8 PM, KTWU-HD, Digital Channel 11.1

Direct web link to Will Dale from KU at

Link to the Student Riders page and the official television program website at