Freedom Riders – Story of the Civil Rights Movement

January 7, 2010 at 1:28 pm 4 comments

Freedom Riders – Story of the Civil Rights Movement
Written by Ann Bausum
Publisher: National Geographic, 2006
Recommended Grades: 5th to 8th

Jason’s Review

Freedom Riders is a nonfiction book written by Ann Bausum with Forewords written by two of the Freedom Riders, John Lewis and Jim Zwerg. John Lewis is currently a congressman for the state of Georgia.

After reading this book, I was left with so many feelings for the Blacks. (Negros) They had their reasons, and they didn’t believe violence would help. They wanted their equal rights and they non-violently fought for them.

Say you were a Black (Negro) in 1960. Wouldn’t you feel mistreated just because of your race? Wouldn’t it be unfair that you couldn’t hold any government positions? Isn’t it unfair that you can’t sit with whites? Isn’t it mean to be teased and beat every day?

After you read Freedom Riders, you’ll be able to answer all of these questions. And, if you are a white person, you should especially give some feeling to these questions. These questions apply mainly to Blacks (Negros) living in the South. The southern states, (particularly Alabama) had a great aversion to the Blacks.

Jim Zwerg and John Lewis were the most famous of the Freedom Riders. The most brutal beating took place in Alabama, the most segregated state in the United States of America. In his hospital, Jim Zwerg delivered a stunning statement:

“Segregation must be stopped. It must be broken down. We’re going on to New Orleans no matter what. We’ll take hitting. We’ll take beating. We’re willing to accept death.”

The Freedom Riders succeeded in stopping segregation. From there Congress and Chief Executive (the President) made segregation come to an end.

I really wish to tell you more, but I’ll have to let you get the book and read it yourself. I hope you love the photographs!

Jenny’s Review

Ann Bausum writes books about U.S. History. Most of her books focus on social injustice themes. Freedom Riders is a story about two men named John Lewis and Jim Zwerg, who were members of a student group dedicated to end segregation of interstate bus travel in the southern states using non-violent methods. This book received numerous awards including the Sibert Honor Book, ALA Best of the Best Books for Young Adults, and Booklist Top of the List.

I was born in the same month and year the Freedom Rides took place (May, 1961), and have no idea what it was like to grow up in a time and place where racial discrimination was openly permitted and encouraged. But Ms. Bausum’s narrative describing life for African Americans in the southern states, made me understand what it was like to live and grow up in the turbulent and violent times of the civil rights movement.

The first part of the book compares and contrasts the childhoods of John Lewis and Jim Zwerg. Lewis was a black man and Zwerg was a white man. Lewis grew up in the “black belt” of Alabama where blacks and white people did not hang out together. Zwerg grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin where the percent of the black population was less than one percent. Lewis went to an all black school and Zwerg went to an all white school. Lewis was one of ten children living in a three room house. Zwerg was one of two children living in a two-story house. Both had happy childhoods. Both worked on farms. Both went to church and wanted to be pastors. Both went to college. Both believed that black people deserved the same rights as white people. Both sacrificed their lives to end segregation! But how did these two individuals end up together?

Zwerg’s first encounter with discrimination was in college where he became a social outcast because he had black friends. His first protest against racism was returning a pledge pin for a segregated fraternity. Zwerg decided to participate in a college exchange program at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee where he and Lewis finally hooked up in January of 1961, when Zwerg became a member of a student group headed by Lewis that fought for civil rights through non-violent protests.

Ms. Bausum then tells about the events that led up to the Freedom Rides, and describes in detail the fear and violence the Freedom Riders experienced. Most of the Freedom Riders were viciously assaulted on the bus rides or at the bus stops–with the permission of local police departments! But it wasn’t until a battered and bruised white man appeared on national television telling Americans that he was willing to die to put an end to segregation that spurred the nation to action. That man was Jim Zwerg!

Black and white photos of the brutal beatings along with insightful quotes from Lewis, Zwerg, Martin Luther King and other people involved in the Freedom Rides, illustrate the turbulent times of the early 1960’s and the courageous actions of all the Freedom Riders. The book’s excellent back matter provides a partial roster of the Riders, a timeline of key civil rights moments, the history of the Freedom Rides, and lives of Lewis and Zwerg. Especially interesting for writers of nonfiction is Ms. Bausum’s one page summary detailing her research for this book.

I highly recommend this book for children and adults. The text, presentation of events, and pacing will draw readers in and keep them entranced. If you want to learn more about this book or are a teacher and want to use it in the classroom, go to Ann Bausum’s awesome website at


Entry filed under: Book Reviews, Nonfiction Books.

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  • 1. Olivia  |  January 7, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    Hi Jason,

    I really like the way you reviewed this book. I love books about people who fight for changes in the world so I willl definitely look for this book at my library!

    Grade 7

    • 2. jennylbailey  |  January 8, 2010 at 3:57 pm


      I am very pleased you like my review. Thank you!
      Hope you like the book!!


  • 3. Stephen Aitken  |  January 8, 2010 at 3:53 am

    This is such a brilliant idea Jenny. Congratulations on finding a way to merge your personal development as a writer, a mother and a blogger!

  • 4. jennylbailey  |  January 8, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    Thanks for your encouragement Stephen and taking the time to read our reviews!

    Jenny & Jason

Click on the “About Us” tab to learn about Jenny and Jason

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