Saturday, June 11, 2011

Riding To Freedom

This year is the 50th anniversary of The Freedom Riders who exercised civil disobedience by riding interstate buses into the segregated southern United States. This action was to test the 1960 Supreme Court decision of Boynton v. Virginia that stated that it was illegal to segregate public transportation. By riding these buses the freedom riders were not just testing the law but bringing national attention to the injustices and violence enacted by not just individuals but the U.S. law enforcement. The first bus left Washington DC on May 4th 1961 headed toward New Orleans. Many buses followed after that.

According to wikipedia :
The Freedom Riders' tactics for their journey were to have at least one interracial pair sitting in adjoining seats and at least one black Rider sitting up front (seats usually reserved for white customers only), while the rest would sit scattered throughout the rest of the bus. One rider would abide by the South's segregation ideals in order to avoid arrest and to contact CORE and arrange bail for those who were arrested.

The arrests, mob violence, beatings, and deaths that ensued were tragic and even when the Kennedys asked that they cool off for a while (so the nation would appear more patriotic in the cold war) , the freedom riders just kept on coming. The consequent changing of the Interstate Commerce Commission regulations and the United States' laws as well as having national attention gave faith to rural southern blacks who were able to then form a more cohesive and confident civil rights movement leading to de-segregated schools, voter registration, and the eventual black power movement.

About 25% of the Freedom Riders were female, and about 75% were under 30. About half were black and half were white. Here are a few of those women who rode for equality.

These photos and bios are from an awesome tumblr you can find here :

Frances Wilson, 1961.

Frances, a 23 year old student at Tennessee State University, was expelled for her participation in the Freedom Rides along with 14 other students. In 2008, the expelled students all received honorary doctorates from Tennessee State University. Sadly, Frances did not live long enough to receive her degree.

Margaret Leonard, 1961

Margaret, a 19 year old student at Sophie Newcomb College, was the first white Southerner to participate in the Freedom Rides. Her mother, a progressive columnist for the Atlanta Journal, was fired after Margaret’s arrest.

Margaret is now retired after a long career as a reporter in Florida.

Freedom Rider Rita Carter, 1961.

Rita, then an 18 year student Oakland City College, is today one of the missing riders.

Gwendolyn Greene, 1961.

In 1961, Gwendolyn was a 19 year old student at Howard University when she decided to take part in a Freedom Ride from New Orleans to Jackson, Mississippi. She spent 40 days in jail.

The previous summer she was one of five Howard students arrested for riding the carousel at the segregated Glen Echo Park in Maryland. The resulting protest led to the park being integrated in 1961 and a 1964 Supreme Court ruling that the local police had unjustly enforced segregation at the private park.

Gwendolyn later married fellow Freedom Rider Travis Britt and raised two sons while working in real estate and human resources.

Beginning in 2003, Gwendolyn represented District 47 (Prince George’s County) in the Maryland State Senate. She won her seat with 99.4% of the vote. One of her main goal was legalizing gay marriage in Maryland. Unfortunately, Gwendolyn died in office in 2008.

Winonah Beamer, 1961.

In 1961, Winonah Beamer was a student at Central State University, a predominately black college in Ohio. She joined the Freedom Rides against the wishes of her then boyfriend, now husband David Myers who was himself a Freedom Rider. Winonah served seven months, the longest jail sentence of any of the Freedom Riders, because “I just felt that there ought to be a historical footnote somewhere that this was the punishment for the crime of sitting down in a waiting room next to a fellow student. I thought, if there wasn’t a single person that stayed the time, then it wasn’t, there was no way to prove the punishment.”

After a long career working with the developmentally disabled, Winonah lives in Florida and works part time as a toll collector.

Freedom Rider Catherine Burks, 1961.

Catherine Burks was a 21 year old student at Tennessee State University when she volunteered for the Freedom Rides.

In the PBS documentary Freedom Riders, she recalls the assault on fellow Freedom Rider Jim Zwerg. “Some men held him while white women clawed his face with their nails. And they held up their little children —children who couldn’t have been more than a couple years old — to claw his face. I had to turn my head back because I just couldn’t watch it.”

She described the siege of the First Baptist Church in Montgomery by an angry segregationist mob: “I heard a rock hit the window. Some of us got up to look out the window and we got hit by more rocks. That’s when a little fear came.”

In August 1961, she married fellow Freedom Rider Paul Brooks. Together they were active in the Mississippi voter registration movement and co-edited the Mississippi Free Press from 1962-1963. Following the Civil Rights Movement, Catherine owned a jewelry boutique and worked as a social worker, teacher, and Avon cosmetics sales manager.

Mary Freelon, 1961.

Mary Freelon was 42 years old when she joined the Freedom Riders on a Greyhound bus from Nashville to Jackson. She passed away in 1982.

Eighteen year old Freedom Rider Karen Kytle, 1961.

Karen was from Stillwater, OK and a student at Hills Business College. She is one of the missing freedom riders.

Delores Lynch, 15 year old Freedom Rider, 1961.

Helen Singleton, 1961.

Helen Singleton was arrested with her husband Robert were arrested for integrating the white waiting room of the Jackson, Mississippi train station. They were sent to Mississippi’s notorious Parchment prison, We could see the death chambers from our cells. It dawns on you then what you have done.”

Today Helen is a policy analyst in California. Helen and Robert are available for speaking engagements.

Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, 1961.

Joan, a 19 year old Freedom Rider, was sentenced to two months in prison for her involvement in the integration of a Jackson, Mississippi bound train. She served more than the required two months because each addition day reduced her $200 fine by $3.

In the Fall of 1961, Joan transferred from Duke University to historically black Tougaloo Southern Christian College because she felt integration should be a two way street.

Today Joan is a retired teaching assistant living in Virginia and mother to five sons. After the 2008 election she brought her Obama pin to the grave of Medgar Evers.

Gloria Bouknight, 1961

Gloria was a 20 year old legal secretary in Columbia, SC when she participated in the Freedom Rides. She is also one of the missing riders.

Mimi Feingold Real, 1961.

Mimi was a sophomore at Swarthmore College when she became involved in the Freedom Rides. She was arrested in Jackson, Mississippi and spent nearly four months in Parchman Penitentiary. From 1963 to 1967, she registered black voters in southern Louisiana.

Today Mimi lives in the Bay Area and works as an administrator in a private school.

Kredelle Petway

Born in Camden, Alabama in 1941, Kredelle Petway was a student at Florida A & M University in Tallahassee, Florida when she was arrested for her participation in the Freedom Rides during the summer of 1961. Petway, along with her father, brother and Cecil A. Thomas, participated in a Freedom Ride from Montgomery, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi where the group was arrested in the Jackson airport on July 24, 1961.

Judith Frieze Wright, 1961.

  • Freedom Rider
  • Organizer for the March on Washington
  • Civil Rights worker in Mississippi
  • Anti-Vietnam War draft counselor
  • Woman’s Movement advocate
  • HIV Activist
  • Mother of Two

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The PBS Show on the Freedom Riders is great.