The University of Alabama

UA Student Selected to Board the Bus for Freedom Ride Commemoration

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Marshall Houston, a University of Alabama senior majoring in economics and English, will be one of 40 college students from across the country participating in the 2011 Student Freedom Ride, a learning opportunity for college students in conjunction with the broadcast of the upcoming PBS “American Experience” film “Freedom Riders” and the 50th anniversary of the May 1961 Freedom Rides.

The 40 Student Freedom Riders were chosen from nearly 1,000 applicants and represent a diverse cross-section of America, according to a PBS news release. The students hail from 33 states and the District of Columbia, along with others who grew up in China, Tajikistan and Haiti. Students were selected on the basis of their essays on their reasons for wanting to participate, their thoughts on the role of social media and technology in civic engagement today and their extracurricular activities.

From Friday, May 6, to Monday, May 16, the Riders will retrace on a bus the route of the original Freedom Rides. Accompanied by filmmaker Stanley Nelson, original Freedom Riders and others, the Riders will learn about the commitment and courage of the individuals who took part in the Freedom Rides. The film “Freedom Riders,” directed by Nelson, will premiere at 8 p.m. Monday, May 16, on “American Experience.”

The original Freedom Riders who will join the students (many of whom were college students themselves in 1961) will share their memories of the fight for equal rights. Students will also meet with today’s leaders in civic engagement.

Among the highlights of the trip will be events at Atlanta’s Morehouse College with original Freedom Rider Bernard Lafayette, a ribbon cutting at the Anniston Bus Station, the town where one of the buses was firebombed in 1961, and a presentation at Vanderbilt University’s First Amendment Center by John Seigenthaler. Events will also take place at Montgomery’s historic First Baptist Church, where the original Freedom Riders, along with Martin Luther King, Jr. and 1,500 others, were trapped by a mob until the Kennedy Administration summoned federal marshals, marking a turning point in the civil rights movement.

The Student Freedom Ride will end Monday, May 16, in New Orleans with a public event and rally to welcome the students and the original Freedom Riders 50 years later. A complete itinerary of events will be released at a later date.

Houston, who recently received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at UA, has been described as being gifted with a “unique humility” to give completely of himself while asking for nothing in return. As a member of “Documenting Justice,” a selective class run by UA’s Center for Ethics & Social Responsibility, he created short films on Foster Auditorium’s place in UA history and peaceful integration, and on El Paso, Texas, to document the ongoing border crisis there due to drug violence.

Houston was one of three students who worked more than 16 months to develop, organize and implement the Alabama Gubernatorial Debate, bringing candidates together in Tuscaloosa and Auburn for televised debates. An outstanding economics and English major who puts character into action, Houston helped lead his fraternity to the top national chapter. As student chair of UA’s prestigious Blackburn Institute, Houston has created a new curriculum for Blackburn Fellows. Houston’s parents are Amy and Greg Houston of Birmingham.

Note: Houston will be available for interviews at different times on Thursday and Friday. To reach Houston, contact Richard LeComte in UA Media Relations at 205/348-3782 or rllecomte@ur.ua.edu.

Information on “Freedom Riders” and the outreach campaign is available online at pbs.org/freedomriders. For photos and additional information, visit pbs.org/pressroom. For more information on the program, contact Mary Lugo at 770/623-8190 or lugo@negia.net.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.