'Freedom Riders' screens tonight

Photo by Special Photo

Photo by Special Photo

ALBANY, Ga. -- A special sneak preview of the new PBS film "Freedom Riders," winner of the Heartland Film Festival Crystal Heart Award for Best Documentary in 2010, will kick off a two-day celebration today and Thursday.

The advance showing of the film will be at 7 p.m. today at Albany State University's ACAD Auditorium, room 150.

The viewing, which is free and open to the public, screens the two-hour film six months before its first nationwide broadcast on public broadcasting stations this May.

"Through the use of actual footage from 1961, this film documents the incredible courage of the Freedom Riders who risked their lives for the principle that all Americans should be treated equally and in a dignified manner when they rode public transportation," Albany Civil Rights Institute Executive Director Lee Formwalt said. "Some Freedom Riders were beaten within an inch of their lives in Birmingham and Montgomery, but they held firmly to their belief in the cause of equality and became heroes to the undertrodden then and today."

On Thursday at 7:30 p.m., the institute will feature Albany Freedom Riders A. Lenora Taitt-Magubane and Joan Browning at its Community Night presentation, which will be held in the Chautauqua Room at Thronateeska Heritage Center, 100 Roosevelt Ave. Thronateeska is located in the old Union Railroad Station where the Albany Freedom Riders were arrested on Dec. 10, 1961.

Taitt-Magubane and Browning's presentation is titled, "Riding to Freedom: The December 1961 Albany Freedom Ride."

The speakers were two of eight Freedom Riders and an observer on the Albany Freedom Ride. They will share their experiences on disembarking in Albany, only to be arrested and caught up in the Albany Movement that swept the city.

"The December 1961 Albany Freedom Ride played an important role in re-energizing the Albany Movement," Formwalt said. "It demonstrated that what happened in Albany was connected to the national civil rights movement. People outside Southwest Georgia were concerned about race relations here in 1961. The interest today in the history of that racial struggle suggests that we are still the subject of interest to people elsewhere.

"All one has to do is look at the places where visitors to the Albany Civil Rights Institute come from -- the Northeast, Midwest, Far West and even overseas."

The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a major civil rights organization, played an important role in the Freedom Rides, which involved more than 400 participants who challenged Jim Crow segregation in interstate travel throughout the South.

The Freedom Rides were not a new concept in 1961. CORE had done such a thing in the upper South 14 years earlier known as the "Journey of Reconciliation."

This time, the Freedom Rides would venture into the Deep South and would run from May through the fall, ending in a train ride from Atlanta to Albany in December. During these long rides, most of them on buses, many Freedom Riders were beaten, arrested and brutalized.

Buses were firebombed and the nation witnessed just how determined many Southern whites were to maintain the system of segregation.

The Freedom Riders celebration is sponsored by the Georgia Humanities Council, the Albany Civil Rights Institute, Albany State University and Thronateeska Heritage Center.