Tech Alumna ‘Gets on the Bus’ with PBS Freedom Ride

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As students departed for celebratory trips and vacations upon graduation, newly minted Georgia Tech alumna Kaitlyn Whiteside boarded a bus to retrace the route of the civil rights movement’s freedom riders with PBS’s 2011 Student Freedom Ride. Activists who participated in the rides during the 1960s movement are accompanying the students on the 10-day journey that began in Washington, D.C., last Friday and will conclude in New Orleans on May 16. Today, the bus passes through Atlanta, visiting historically significant locations in the city before ending the day in Anniston, Ala.

Whiteside, who earned her bachelor’s degree in history, technology and society from the Institute last week, left with 39 other college students from around the country. Their ride will chart a course through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana, stopping at historical landmarks along the way to spark reflection from the freedom riders and discourse with students about modern civic engagement issues.

Whiteside developed an interest in the civil rights movement during her college career, starting a research project during her second year on the desegregation of Chattanooga with Ronald Bayor, professor and chair for the School of History, Technology and Society.

“I stumbled on quite the gold mine of primary documents from a 26-year legal battle to desegregate Chattanooga Public Schools,” Whiteside said. “The man who filed the original lawsuit in the 1960s is still living in the area, and I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview him for my paper.” Whiteside is still in the progress of completing and publishing what she called the “ever-lengthening” paper, and credits the experience with sparking her interest in the historical movement.

The 2011 Student Freedom Ride is part of a series of activities leading up to the May 16 broadcast of the documentary “Freedom Riders,” celebrating 50 years since the original Freedom Rides of 1961. The students, along with original freedom riders, appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show on May 4 as part of an episode commemorating the anniversary. The occasion also coincides with Georgia Tech’s ongoing celebration of the 50th anniversary of the matriculation of black students and peaceful integration of its campus.

Students will use social media to document their experiences throughout the trip in an effort to expand their conversation on how civic activism has evolved since the 1960s. Follow Whiteside on her freedom ride at the PBS website.



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