This is something you don't want to miss. As we wrote when Freedom Riders showed last year at the Nashville Film Festival, "Watching Stanley Nelson's documentary, about as essential as viewing gets, audience members born after 1980 may not know which to find more astounding: the casual institutional acceptance of racism just five short decades ago, or the courage of the black and white Americans who stood together to defy it. Nelson here marshals numerous interviews (including John Lewis, Diane Nash and John Seigenthaler), copious archival footage and telling artifacts of period pop culture to show exactly what was at stake when some 400 volunteers fought segregation aboard the South's public transportation lines — the buses that made American mobility both symbolic and literal."
In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides this month, the movie shows 8 p.m. Monday on PBS's The American Experience, broadcast locally on NPT-Channel 8. At 6:30 p.m. tonight, however, NPT hosts a free screening of the documentary at The Belcourt, with a Q&A to follow. John Seigenthaler moderates, and original riders Joan Mulholland, Rip Patton, Charles Person, Robert Singleton and Helen Singleton are expected to extend. The screening is free and open to the public, but anyone wanting to attend should send a message to rsvp (at) wnpt.net.
In addition, NPT will broadcast its own Seigenthaler-led panel on the Freedom Rides, featuring Patton, Susan Wilbur Wamsley, Catherine Burke Brooks and Matthew Walker. Titled Freedom Riders: The Nashville Connection, it will be broadcast on NPT 7 p.m. Friday, May 13 and again 9 p.m. Wednesday, May 18.
For background on the Freedom Rides, see Angela Tuck's cover story in this week's Scene, on stands today. If segregation and racist hostility remain a scar on the city's history, the saga of the Freedom Riders and the local civil rights movement stands as one of Nashville's finest chapters.