Oprah says she was inspired to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides after seeing the PBS documentary Freedom Riders. The film documents the Freedom Riders' journey, which began with intense training.
During these training sessions, CORE members were subjected to staged verbal and physical attacks to prepare them for what was to come. They believed they were ready for anything—even the possibility of death—and their determination to fight for racial equality outweighed all fear and doubt.
Looking back at this moment in American history, Oprah is astounded by their bravery. "I know in my heart, I don't believe I would have had the courage to do what these brave souls did," she says. "I don't believe I would have had the courage to get on those buses."
When the 13 original Freedom Riders boarded their buses, they didn't have security, but they had hope. "Boarding that Greyhound bus to travel to the Deep South, I felt good. I felt happy," says John Lewis, a former Freedom Rider and current U.S. congressman.
The first few days were uneventful, and when the Freedom Riders arrived in Atlanta on May 13, 1961, they attended a reception hosted by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They hoped this civil rights leader would join their movement, but instead, he passed along an ominous warning. He said the Ku Klux Klan had "quite a welcome" planned for them in Alabama, and he urged them to reconsider their route.
The next day, however, the buses and the Riders rolled on.