The year 2011 will mark 50 years since the Freedom Riders, groups of blacks and whites traveling together from Washington D.C. into segregated Southern states, made their courageous and inspiring journeys. The iconic PBS series American Experience is scheduled to commemorate the anniversary with a special episode that year. Producers from Firelight Media are in Nashville this week interviewing some of the individuals who played a crucial role in the Rides, among then John Seigenthaler, Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Frederick Leonard and Reverend James Lawson.
Director and producer Stanley Nelson (“Jonestown,” “Wounded Knee” episode of the upcoming We Shall Remain series); director of photography Bobby Shepard (“Eyes on the Prize”); and co-producer Laurens Grant (“The Murder of Emmitt Till”) interviewed Seigenthaler this morning at the Craighead House in Historic Richland.
Seigenthaler was sent by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to negotiate security for the Riders in Alabama. But when they arrived in Montgomery, their police escort was missing, and they found themselves at the mercy of the angry white mob that awaited them. While rushing to help Susan Wilbur, a Freedom Rider being chased by the mob, Seigenthaler was hit in the head with a pipe and knocked unconscious, left for dead until police arrived.
Now owned by Steve Sirls and Allen DeCuyper, Craighead House was originally built in 1809 — additions were made in 1822 and 1998 — and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The five-part series, American Experience: We Shall Remain, starts Monday, April 13, 2009 at 8:00 p.m. on NPT and PBS stations nationwide.