Alumni Book Inspires PBS Documentary

These are heady times for Ray Arsenault, M.A.’74, Ph.D.’81. A highly acclaimed PBS documentary based on his scholarship had its premiere in May; he appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to discuss his work; and he has one of the top-selling American history books on

Even more gratifying is watching the subject of his scholarship, the 1961 Freedom Rides, finally take their rightful historical place as central events of the U.S. civil rights movement.

“I never expected this to be such a pop culture phenomenon,” says Arsenault, the John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. “Freedom Riders” tells the story of a group of civil rights activists who 50 years ago challenged segregation in the American South. The two-hour movie, part of the highly regarded “American Experience” series on PBS, is based on Arsenault’s 2006 book, “Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice.”