CNN Presents ‘A Long March to Freedom’

You’ve heard the stories and you’ve seen the pictures.

Now CNN is bringing the story of the Freedom Riders to life as part of its docu-series The Sixties. In the two-hour episode, Long March to Freedom, history makers Diane Nash, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, Rev. James Lawson and more share their firsthand accounts of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

“When the idea of covering the whole ’60s came out, we started looking at 10 different specific scenes to explore,” explains Mark Herzog, who executive produced the series, along with Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman. “We knew the Freedom Riders had to be one of our main themes. The Civil Rights struggles influenced so many other struggles of the 1960s.”

The documentary features actual news footage from the Civil Rights Movement, along with detailed stories about lunch counter sit-ins, the march from Selma to Montgomery, Freedom Rides, school integration and the Children’s Crusade in Birmingham — from the people who lived them.

“I have come to realize, when people are watching The Sixties series, a lot of young people are seeing images and hearing stories they’ve never really seen or heard before,” says Herzog. “We think people will look at the documentary and see it as a foreign land, a foreign culture. But then they’ll realize it was only 50 years ago. A very specific group of brave people got together and said ‘we’re going to push buttons and force people to look at this.'”

Indeed, the group of people behind the Freedom Rides sparked other movements as well: the anti-war protest, the stand for women’s rights and the fight to protect the environment, for example.

“The seeds of change came out of the Civil Rights Movement,” says Herzog. “If not for these people, a lot of what we saw in the ’60s wouldn’t have happened. But people saw the Civil Rights Movement and said ‘we can do that.’ It made people feel empowered.”

Most importantly, Herzog and the other producers want people to understand what was accomplished during the Freedom Summer.

“I hope the viewers want to learn more about it and understand the courage these people had,” he says.

THE SIXTIES: A Long March to Freedom premieres Thursday night at 9 p.m. ET on CNN.