Editor’s note: This is a preview of an article that appears in the November issue of Gateway Journalism Review.
Just before Oprah Winfrey made the move to cable television from her popular national commercial broadcast syndication program in May 2011, she aired a show titled “American Heroes: The Freedom Riders Unite 50 Years Later.” That program revisited events depicted in an award-winning PBS documentary “Freedom Riders.” Guests were introduced as “heroes” but could have been termed “survivors” of that bloody era, when many Civil Rights activists were assaulted and some murdered.
Among Oprah’s guests was John Seigenthaler, former editor, publisher and CEO of the Nashville Tennessean, who went on to become founding editorial director of USA TODAY and is the founder of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. Seigenthaler, who witnessed the brutality suffered by the civil rights protesters, also was a victim of a mob; he was knocked unconscious and almost killed during the Freedom Rides.
In a recent phone interview, he explained how his appearance on “Oprah” resulted in a “reunion” with many of the Freedom Riders – now middle-aged adults. They included a young woman he had tried to rescue from the mob at the Montgomery, Ala., bus terminal during the “Rides.”
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