Initially led by James Farmer, the first group of CORE freedom riders encountered violence throughout their trip, culminating in the burning of one of the buses in Anniston, Alabama, and mob violence at the bus terminal in Birmingham. The violence led Farmer to call off the remainder of the trip and the volunteers flew to New Orleans.
Frustrated by the canceled demonstration, student activists under the leadership of Diane Nash volunteered to continue the rides. Despite tension between the student demonstrators and SCLC leadership, stemming from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s refusal to join the riders, King served as a spokesperson for the rides. King publicly pressured the Kennedy Administration for federal intervention and during a tense standoff in Montgomery in which an angry mob had trapped the freedom riders and their supporters inside First Baptist Church, Attorney General Robert Kennedy sent federal marshals to disperse the mob and protect the riders.
On 29 March 1961, the Kennedy Administration directed the Interstate Commerce Commission to ban segregation in all facilities under its jurisdiction. The Freedom Rides continued throughout the summer until eventually relenting once the ICC ban took effect on 1 November 1961.