In the summer of 1961, the fiery first months of America’s civil rights movement, waves of young people rode buses into the heart of the Deep South. Mostly college students, these interracial groups challenged Jim Crow laws that segregated interstate travel. Their bravery helped change the course of American history.
Many of the Freedom Riders were brutally attacked, arrested, and imprisoned in Mississippi’s notorious Parchman Farm Penitentiary. There they invented an ingenious pastime to help them endure: a live variety show inspired by programs then popular on radio and television. Jokes, stories, singing and Bible readings sprang from every cell. This nightly event became known as “The Parchman Hour.”