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Freedom Riders won three Primetime Emmy Awards in the following categories:Exceptional Merit in Nonfiction Filmmaking; Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming; and Outstanding Picture Editing for Nonfiction Programming. Congrats to the Firelight Films team! To learn more about the awards, go to The 63rd Primetime Creative Arts Emmys aired on September 17, 2011 at 8 PM on REELZCHANNEL.


Freedom Riders, directed and produced by Stanley Nelson and presented by the acclaimed PBS series American Experience, is a two-hour documentary film about the hundreds of civil rights activists who challenged segregation in interstate transport in the American South during the spring and summer of 1961.

In 1961, during the first year of John F. Kennedy’s presidency, more than four hundred Americans participated in a bold and dangerous experiment designed to awaken the conscience of a complacent nation.

These self-proclaimed “Freedom Riders” challenged the mores of a racially segregated society by performing a disarmingly simple act. Traveling together in small interracial groups, they sat where they pleased on buses and trains and demanded unrestricted access to terminal restaurants and waiting rooms, even in areas of the Deep South where such behavior was forbidden by law and custom.

Their efforts were met with extreme violence and brought international attention to the fight against segregation, exploitation and racism known as the Civil Rights Movement. Freedom Riders chronicles the story behind this courageous group of civil rights activists. Freedom Riders garnered three Primetime Emmy Awards and was one of 16 films selected from 862 Submissions for the US Documentary Competition of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. The film was also an Official Selection of the 2010 Silverdocs Documentary Festival and the 2010 Full Frame Documentary Festival.


Writer, Director & Producer: Stanley Nelson

Based in part on the book: Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice
By Raymond Arsenault

Producer: Laurens Grant

Editors: Lewis Erskine & Aljernon Tunsil

Original Concept: Paul Taylor

Original Music: Tom Phillips

Director of Photography: Robert Shepard

Archival Producer: Lewanne Jones

Associate Producer: Stacey Holman

For a full list of credits, go to

production funders

A special thanks to the following funders:

  • Exclusive Corporate Funding Provided by Liberty Mutual
  • Major Funding Provided by Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
  • Additional Funding Provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities; the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; and the WGBH Documentary Investment Group

  • more info

    Director Stanley Nelson and almost 200 Freedom Riders appeared on The Oprah Show on May 4th. For more info, click here.

    The film aired on the PBS series American Experience on May 16, 2011 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Freedom Rides. An encore presentation on PBS is scheduled for Tuesday, February 7, 2012. Check local listings.

    For more information about the film, go to:

    Join Firelight Media’s FREEDOM RIDERS Outreach Campaign

    The story of the Freedom Rides offers a dramatic lesson in the revolutionary power of civic participation. The daring actions of a small diverse group of young adults emboldened a mass movement that ultimately transformed the very fabric of this country. We believe this powerful example of a successful organizing effort will inspire young people, and their adult allies, that are affected by, and mobilizing around contemporary issues such as disproportionate sentencing, immigrant rights, youth violence and environmental justice.

    Firelight Media's national community engagement campaign invites community-based organizations and student groups to use the film to highlight lessons from the Rides, draw parallels between the struggles of the 1960s and today, and support youth-led action around current social justice struggles.

    Also, check out United in Courage: A Community Resource Guide for the film FREEDOM RIDERS which includes tips on how to work with local Freedom Riders, sample discussion questions, a glossary of organizing terms, and essays from Stanley Nelson, Marian Wright Edelman, and youth and adult community organizers. It also includes examples on the many ways the film can be a tool to educate and engage your community–especially young people–to take action on issues like immigrant rights, voter disenfranchisement, educational reform and literacy. Our goal is to share this guide with as many people and organizations as possible so that you too can incorporate the powerful story of the Freedom Riders into your work.

    Our Local and National Community Partners include:

    Our Community Partners will use the film to:

    Link here for ongoing info about the campaign.

    Monifa Bandele -
    Sonya Childress -

    outreach campaign funders

    *A special thanks to NBPC, Atlantic Philanthropies, and the Campaign for Black Male Achievement of the Open Society Foundations for their support for the outreach campaign.