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By Jess Bidgood

In 1961, hundreds of young people gathered in the South, white and black, to stand side-by-side in deliberate defiance of the region's segregation laws. They countered mobs, physical assault and imprisonment with non-violent protest and deep belief in the ethos of racial equality.

But the story of the Freedom Ride is not only about the South. Hundreds of riders who had never before crossed the Mason Dixon line, whose lives were not directly affected by Southern Jim Crow laws and institutionalized segregation, traveled from the North to be part of the Freedom Ride. They returned with stories that drew continued attention to ongoing civil rights violations in the United States.

Three of those riders live in the Boston area today, and agreed to share their stories. Keep an eye on this page — we'll be posting extended interviews and profiles with each of these individuals.  

Ellen Ziskind, Brookline

Ellen Ziskind sits in her Brookline home. (Jess Bidgood/WGBH)

When Ellen Ziskind was growing up in Lowell, the city had almost no diversity. She remembers the stares and hostility she received when she brought an African-American friend, Jane, home from boarding school with her for the weekend. It didn't seem right. So when Ziskind heard about the Freedom Ride while a summer volunteer at the Congress of Racial Equality, it seemed natural — not scary, and certainly not courageous — to go.

More: Read Ellen's story

Paul Breines, Boston

Paul Breines, 69, stands in his loft apartment on the border of Roxbury and the South End. (Jess Bidgood/WGBH)

Paul Breines is a historian by trade, having been a professor of intellectual history at Boston College for decades. But he's almost bemused to think that he made history one summer, in 1961, after he saw a badly beaten Jim Zwirg speak on his experience on the Freedom Ride.

Coming soon: Breines reflects on the legacy of the Freedom Ride, big and small.

Mike Wolfson, Boston

Jack Mikhail Wolfson is seen in the mug shot taken when he was arrested during the Freedom Ride in July, 1961. (State of Mississippi Digital Collection, Sovereignty Commission)  

Jack Mikhail Wolfson, known as Mike, speaks about his experience joining the Freedom Ride in 1961. He now lives in Boston and works at the Harvard School of Public health.


More Freedom Riders

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