The goal of the Freedom Riders was to draw national attention to and incite federal action against the non-enforcement in the segregated south of the Supreme Court decisions Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia and Boynton v. Virginia, which ruled segregated public buses to be unconstitutional. The work of the Freedom Riders bolstered support for subsequent Civil Rights initiatives.
Although these two U.S. Supreme Court cases overturned the "separate but equal" doctrine established by Plessy v. Ferguson and declared segregated public buses to be unconstitutional, most states in the segregated south disdainfully refused to enforce the ruling. The aim of the Freedom Riders was to raise awareness of the disregard for civil rights and expose the south's belligerent attitude toward racial integration.
The Freedom Riders filled Greyhound and Trailways buses traveling through the south. They encountered significant opposition in Mississippi and Alabama, where the local police encouraged mob violence organized by the Ku Klux Klan.
The federal government did not respond as the civil rights activists hoped. The Kennedy administration urged the Freedom Riders to restrain themselves, fearing that scenes of violence and division would damage America's reputation during the critical crisis of the Cold War. However, the Freedom Riders' selflessness and courage won the support of African Americans and pro civil-rights whites throughout the south, leading to a larger and more enthusiastic movement throughout the rest of the 1960s.