Make Me a Captive, Lord
Make me a captive, Lord, And then I shall be free;
Force me to render up my sword, And I shall conqueror be.
—from the hymn "Make Me a Captive, Lord"1
DELIVERING THE MESSAGE OF HOPE AND REDEMPTION required a sustained campaign of personal commitment and nonviolent fortitude. In and of themselves, however, the actions and experiences of the Freedom Riders could not topple or even seriously challenge the Jim Crow regime. To be an effective agent of historical change, the moral drama of the Freedom Rides needed a broad and attentive audience—an audience that could only be reached through the mass media. Without widespread press coverage, the 1961 Freedom Rides would have suffered the same obscure fate as the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation. In the early going, as we have seen, the 1961 CORE Ride garnered few headlines. But that situation changed dramatically in the wake of the May 14 riots in Anniston and Birmingham. During the second half of May, the Freedom Rider crisis was front-page news in newspapers across the nation and throughout much of the world, and a source of riveting images for local and network television reporters. Indeed, following the formation of the FRCC on May 26, nourishing and sustaining press interest in the Freedom Rides was a key element of movement strategy.
In early June, maintaining the Freedom Rides' status as a media event became more challenging as President Kennedy's visit to Paris and Vienna overshadowed all other news stories. But FRCC leaders did their best to keep the movement in the public eye, resorting to press conferences, television and radio interviews, and even staged publicity stunts. On June 5, for example, Jim Peck interrupted Harry Truman's Monday morning walk in an effort to obtain a retraction of Friday's anti–Freedom Rider remarks. Although Truman