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Freedom's Main LineThe Journey of Reconciliation and the Freedom Rides$

Derek Charles Catsam

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780813125114

Published to Kentucky Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813125114.001.0001

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Jailed In

Jailed In

From Jackson City Jail to Parchman Farm

(p.264) (p.265) Chapter 11 Jailed In
Freedom's Main Line


University Press of Kentucky

Abstract and Keywords

When the first arrests in Mississippi occurred, seven men headed by William Sloane Coffin Jr. from Connecticut, headed towards Mississippi. Upon realizing the graveness of the situation and how their ride could indeed be obstructed by bombs, Coffin, Dr. John Maguire, and the others in their group flew to Atlanta and got on a bus bound for Montgomery. After linking with a National Guard caravan, the bus was able to arrive safely at Montgomery. Although the group had to face what was awaiting them and was protected by several National Guard troops, they were still able to conduct a prayer meeting and communicate with Martin Luther King Jr. This chapter shows how the Riders were able to file suit immediately in the federal district court to request for the segregation laws in Alabama bus terminals to be invalidated. The chapter also demonstrates how the Riders ended up at Parchman Farm and how it shared a similar reputation with Mississippi.

Keywords:   Mississippi, Parchman Farm, Freedom Riders, William Sloane Coffin Jr., John Maguire, Montgomery, Alabama bus terminal

Comes the Deluge: The Freedom Riders in Jail and More on the Roads

Robert Kennedy was not happy with the news he heard next. On the same day as the first arrests in Mississippi, seven men from Connecticut had departed the Nutmeg State and were bound for Mississippi. At the head of this delegation of four whites and three blacks was Yale University chaplain William Sloane Coffin Jr. Accompanying him were Reverend Gaylord Noyce, an associate professor at Yale's Divinity School; Dr. John Maguire and Dr. David Swift, both religion professors at Wesleyan University; Clyde Carter and Charles Jones, theology students at Johnson C. Smith University; and George B. Smith, a Yale law student.1

After the events in Anniston and Birmingham, John Maguire and the others realized how serious matters had become: “It really did appear to us that this ride could be terminated by bombs.” Before the chaos in Montgomery, Maguire later recalled, “we were speaking very bravely, that if anything happened to the Freedom Riders, we would go down and keep this thing going, which was, in a way, real bravura because up to that point, no representative white clergy members had gotten into it.”2

Coffin, Maguire, and the others flew to Atlanta, where they boarded a bus bound for Montgomery. “The hostility was incredible!” according to Maguire. “The people were just glaring at us.” The bus left just after noon with a police escort that disappeared by the time the bus reached the Alabama border. Crowds gathered at various points along the route. Some were curiosity seekers. Others shouted epithets at the passengers and even assaulted the bus in some of the towns along the way. Coffin, who had no formal training in nonviolent direct action, grew agitated and, according (p.266) to Maguire, “wanted to take these guys on.” The Greyhound arrived safely in Montgomery after linking up with a National Guard caravan outside the city.3

It was nearly five o'clock when the seven new arrivals debarked at the Montgomery greyhound terminal. Hundreds of National Guard troops were there to protect them, but the scene was still fraught. “We were out there about twenty minutes in this extraordinarily tense situation, with bricks occasionally being lobbed over,” Maguire later remembered. The group spent that duration “sort of trying to smile, and very frightened.”4 Two vehicles arrived before long to collect Coffin's group. A reporter shouted a question about whether the Freedom Rides might embarrass the president on the eve of his summit meeting with Khrushchev, and Ralph Abernathy, one of the drivers, responded, “Doesn't the Attorney General know that we've been embarrassed all our lives?”5 Someone threw a rock at Abernathy's car as it sped from the Montgomery bus station with the new arrivals.

Soon after, Coffin called both McGeorge Bundy, the president's chief advisor on foreign affairs and soon-to-be national security advisor, and Harris Wofford, in hopes of convincing the president to use “a little moral suasion” that would serve to “clear up the confusion in this country.”6 He also talked to Burke Marshall, who tried to dissuade them from continuing their planned challenge at the bus station in Montgomery.7 The almost universal response from the administration was to pressure the group to reconsider, which left Coffin and the others shaken.8 When doubt crept into the minds of the new arrivals, they held a prayer meeting with Martin Luther King Jr. and elected to sleep and tackle matters again in the morning. Kennedy, who had spent his undergraduate years at Harvard, tried to make light of the situation, quipping, “Those people at Yale are sore at Harvard for taking over the country, and now they're trying to get back at us.”9 Behind the joke, though, was a seething attorney general.

While May 25 was something of an interregnum in the Jackson phase of the Freedom Rides, Montgomery had returned to the fore. Reverend Seay was shot in the wrist by a bullet from a passing car, presumably in retaliation for his prominent role in working with the Freedom Riders. Meanwhile, Coffin and his friends had decided to continue on with the Montgomery challenge despite the increasing pressure from the Kennedy people.

With the media in full attendance, Coffin and the others, accompanied by Abernathy, Shuttlesworth, Wyatt Tee Walker, and King associate Bernard (p.267) Lee, arrived at the station, bought tickets for the journey to Jackson, and made purchases at the lunch counter. As they waited for the scheduled bus departure, Sheriff Mac Sim Butler arrived, arrested all eleven men, and carted them to jail, charging them with breaching the peace after they started eating in the white side of the Trailways terminal. The group accepted bail, quickly raised by friends as well as students and faculty at Yale and Wesleyan upon hearing news of the arrests, after twenty-nine hours in the segregated jail. Coffin called the detentions “blatantly illegal and a travesty of justice.”10

The group did not continue on to Mississippi, and Reverend Abernathy and the Riders filed suit immediately in federal district court asking for invalidation of Alabama's bus terminal segregation laws. The Department of Justice promptly filed an amicus brief at the prompting of the presiding judge; it also asked for an expedited hearing. That same day the New Orleans city council looked ahead to the likelihood of Freedom Riders crossing into their city and requested that the police escort any Riders nonstop through and out of the city.11 CORE kept up its publicity barrage, sending Joe Perkins and other Freedom Riders on another junket of speaking engagements about CORE and the Freedom Rides.12 The arrest of Coffin's contingent garnered massive media attention, becoming more fodder for an increasingly fierce media debate in the South and across the nation. The Freedom Ride experience turned Coffin, a previously obscure thirty-seven-year-old university chaplain, into something of a phenomenon, and he would continue to be active in political and social causes for the remainder of his life.13

That same day, fresh from his negotiations with Robert Kennedy, Senator Eastland lambasted the Freedom Rides from the Senate floor. Calling the Freedom Ride “part of the Communist movement in the U.S.,” Eastland asserted that the Riders’ visit to Mississippi marked the first time the people “of my state have come face to face with this world conspiracy.” The senator made a connection between events down south and the impending summit meetings, claiming that civil rights activists intended to embarrass the United States and the president. He then went on to detail the arrest records of many of the Freedom Riders, including those in the first group, who had disbanded a week earlier after the nightmare in Alabama. In the end, Eastland argued, “the day has come when these agent provocateurs must be stopped, and I salute the governor and the officials of my state for the prompt, efficient and peaceful treatment that they extended to these riders who entered the state of Mississippi for the deliberate purpose of violating the laws of Mississippi and fomenting strife and discord.”14

(p.268) James Farmer had sent word to Jackson's sole black attorney, Jack Young, to contact CORE and keep the Freedom Riders “coming into Jackson as fast as possible on every bus… every train… and recruit madly and train.” By this time, CORE “didn't have to do much recruiting because… the volunteers were barraging us.”15 At this stage of the Freedom Rides, CORE played a secondary role anyway. Diane Nash and other student leaders in Nashville had already taken care of assuring a steady flow of reinforcements long before Farmer tried to take charge again from jail. They had been training recruits, they had sent out a call for volunteers, and they were coordinating efforts to continue the Freedom Rides and deluge Mississippi with civil rights activists.

The twenty-seven Freedom Riders went to trial in Jackson's municipal court at four in the afternoon on May 26, with Jack Young and Wiley Branton, an NAACP lawyer from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, as their defense lawyers. By this point Roy Wilkins had yielded on his opposition to the Freedom Rides, and he provided Legal Defense Fund support for the group. Eventually, he even visited Freedom Riders in jail. He brought Jim Farmer a couple of books to read, including To Kill a Mockingbird.16 The prosecutor, Jack Travis, barely made a case, simply announcing the charge, including the fact that the city was dropping a charge of refusing to obey a police officer, and telling the court: “They came to Mississippi to violate the laws of Mississippi and for no other reason. They were here under the most obvious circumstances—to breach the peace of this community and they did it.” Travis then made an incredible statement: “If they had observed our laws they would have been welcome.”17

Young tried to make an impassioned speech for his clients based on their desire to be treated like human beings. Judge James Spencer turned his back on Young and Blanton and stared at the wall while the lawyers vainly pleaded the case of the twenty-seven accused. Almost summarily, the judge found them guilty, sentenced them to sixty days in jail, suspended, and fined them two hundred dollars. He told them he believed they sought to “inflame the people,” instead of letting the courts decide their rights, and he asserted that “we are not here trying any segregation laws or the rights to sit any place on buses or eat any place.”18

The Freedom Riders chose not to pay their fine and thus accept guilt, meaning they would have to serve jail time, adopting the “jail, no bail” tactic. At a rate of three dollars per day, that meant that they faced sixty-seven days in jail. As more Riders joined them, the locus of the struggle effectively moved from the highways and bus stations to the courts and jails.

(p.269) That day, CORE, SNCC, SCLC, and the Nashville movement joined forces to form the Freedom Ride Coordinating Committee (FRCC) to oversee the ongoing activities.19 This marked a vital moment both for the Freedom Rides and for the Civil Rights Movement generally. With the formation of the FRCC, the mainline grassroots civil rights organizations had committed themselves to continue to take the challenge directly to Mississippi, to scoff at cooling-off periods, and instead to devote themselves to filling up Mississippi's jails, keeping national attention focused on Jim Crow in the realm of public transportation—and by extension public facilities—and forcing federal officials to act. Further, the establishment of the FRCC showed that rather than compete for resources and attention, the various civil rights organizations could instead combine forces. While territorial skirmishes would continue to haunt the movement at times after the Freedom Rides, the model of the FRCC would reemerge with the formation of the Albany Movement in Georgia a few months hence and with the Conference of Federated Organizations, a similar confluence of groups, in Mississippi during the intense struggle for voting rights.

That day Robert Kennedy addressed much of the world on Voice of America radio. He discussed the Freedom Rides, acknowledging that people worldwide were aware of what had happened in Alabama in the preceding weeks. He asserted that the American government was “disturbed about the fact that beatings took place and about the fact that people's rights were not being protected.” The rest of the world heard the attorney general claim that those who participated in the attacks were part of a “small group” that “certainly [did] not represent the attitude of the U.S. Government or the American people.” Then Kennedy began to stretch credulity for the purpose of public relations in the disputed battlefields of the Cold War. In “many areas of the United States,” he boldly proclaimed, “there is no prejudice,” an idea apparently validated by the fact that “Negroes hold high positions in the U.S. Government.” One example of this was that “some of our leading judges are Negroes.” Then, to justify American civil rights failings within the Cold War context, Kennedy told his listeners: “You have problems and difficulties in your areas. We have them here. Our society is set up so that everyone knows about our successes and they know about our failures.” In his talks with civil rights activists, Kennedy had emphasized how disturbances down south might disrupt President Kennedy's important upcoming meetings. Robert Kennedy reiterated this concern in his radio address, though this time he seemed to be speaking (p.270) to potential vigilantes as well as the Freedom Riders themselves when he practically pleaded that in light of the president's important trip, “whatever we do in the United States at this time, which brings or causes discredit on our country, can be harmful to his mission.”20

Ross Barnett used his bully pulpit to keep up state resistance. As new Freedom Riders made their way toward Mississippi, Barnett declared that the state would maintain its segregation laws in the face of a new onslaught. In a press conference in the Mississippi Senate chambers before about forty- five visiting news reporters and photographers, the governor announced that new groups of Riders would find a police escort at the state line and that the police would arrest them if they broke state segregation laws. Barnett also praised the citizens of his state. “I am grateful to all of the people of Mississippi, including local and state officers, for their splendid and usual cooperation,” he said. “It clearly demonstrates that Mississippi can certainly handle its own problems without aid from outside sources.” Barnett rejected offers from Robert Kennedy and Whizzer White of federal troops or marshals, and he lamented “that all the people of Mississippi, both white and colored, cannot be permitted to live in peace and harmony, as we all want to do in order to better the educational standards and living conditions of all.” In the end, he believed, “There is too much work to be done in Mississippi for us to have to put up with outside agitators trying to stir up our people for no good cause whatsoever.”21

Barnett welcomed the visiting news people and announced that Mayor Thompson invited them to take a guided tour of the city that afternoon. Reporters had come from cities as far-flung as London, Toronto, New York, Washington, Miami, and Minneapolis.22 About one-third of the reporters accepted Thompson's offer, prompting the Memphis Commercial-Appeal to run a wry headline: “Trailers of ‘Freedom Riders’ Taken on Bus Trip of Own.” For the journalists who accepted the hospitality, there was quite a bit of emphasis on the progress of black Jacksonians, including a visit to a black junior high school where they talked to teachers and students. They also saw black housing developments and recreation facilities along with their public relations tour of white Jackson. The affable mayor, known for his sense of humor, sent his audience into paroxysms of laughter on several occasions. Of the city jail, where the Freedom Riders were ensconced even as the tour passed, Thompson told the media tourists: “One of our visitors said it was the prettiest jail he ever saw. We have some who keep coming back all the time.” In all, the reporters were impressed with the tour and with the mayor, about whom an English newsman remarked, “What a (p.271) wonderful guy. What a salesman.”23 The next day the Jackson Chamber of Commerce took the journalists out for a steak dinner.24

Mississippi officials realized that they were engaged in a war of public relations, among other things, and they were determined to put their best foot forward. Later in the summer, before a Rotary Club luncheon in Pocatello, Idaho, the State Sovereignty Commission's public relations director Erle Johnston declared that, far from bringing shame to Mississippi, the Freedom Riders had “actually done the state a service,” because rather than bringing embarrassment or violence, “they brought many representatives of the news media into Mississippi who were able to learn firsthand how the two races live and work in harmony” in the Magnolia State.25

On May 27, Lucretia Collins allowed for her bond of five hundred dollars to be paid so that she could graduate with her class at Tennessee A&I. Once she bonded out, four other Freedom Riders—Julian Aaron, a student at Southern University; Jerome Smith, a former Southern student; Doris Castle, the CORE worker who had harassed Jim Farmer into taking the Freedom Ride from Montgomery; and David Dennis of Shreveport, a former Dillard University student—followed, leaving twenty-two of the second group still in jail.26 The four Louisianans flew into New Orleans to deal with legal affairs and decide what to do next.

The next day eighteen new Freedom Riders showed up in Jackson on buses from Memphis and Montgomery. Seventeen of them went through the perfunctory arrest and court process and joined their cohort in jail. The eighteenth, Louis Jordan, a twenty-eight-year-old black man, rode into Jackson as a show of solidarity but did not participate in the challenge that led to the arrests, as he had to return to Brooklyn for work. The first group, which arrived at 5:30 that morning on a Greyhound, consisted of nine black students from Tennessee A&I College in Nashville. Catherine Burks, of Birmingham, led that group. It was a regularly scheduled bus and had no National Guard or other accompaniment. Twenty-year-old Nashvillean Pauline Edith Knight led the second team, which included two white students from historically black Central State College in Wilberforce, Ohio—David Myers and David Fankhauser. It arrived from Montgomery on a regularly scheduled Trailways bus at 2:00 p.m.27

David Fankhauser was a nineteen-year-old chemistry student at Central State.28 He had seen the events in Alabama from afar on the news and in the papers, and when he saw a SNCC call for volunteers, he shaved his beard, cut his hair, put on his best clothes, and flew into Montgomery, where he was taken to Ralph Abernathy's house. At Abernathy's, the (p.272) whites were instructed to stay away from the windows because knowledge of whites staying in a black home could lead to Klan retaliation. Fankhauser and Myers went to the train station the next day to meet new white Freedom Riders who were arriving in Montgomery by train, sent because it seemed wiser not to send blacks to pick up whites. On Sunday, May 28, the group got up early to go to the bus station, where there was already a police presence. On the bus were three National Guard troops, a small escort of a couple of Highway Patrol cars in front and in back. Some media members followed in their own cars. At each station where the bus stopped between Montgomery and Jackson, only passengers ticketed for that destination were allowed off the bus; the National Guard did not permit the Freedom Riders to debark at any point. As they entered Mississippi, a small convoy of Mississippi highway patrolmen took over the escort. There was a crowd at the Jackson Trailways station, but the police kept them at bay. The blacks entered the white waiting room, while the whites entered the black area. Upon arrest, the police took the blacks to the Hinds County jail and Myers and Fankhauser to the city jail.29

Both of the buses that day made their regularly scheduled stops, and none encountered violence. For the first time in Mississippi, Freedom Riders rode with regular passengers. On the bus from Nashville, Pauline Knight, one of the A&I students, sat next to Esther Crosby of Montgomery, who was on her way to visit a friend in Selma. After the trip, the middle-aged white woman told a reporter, “I didn't like it a bit.” She and Knight did not speak. On the second bus, two men elected to stand in the aisle for about ten miles along the route. They refused to sit next to black passengers and refused to take seats near the rear, associating those with the Jim Crow seats in which blacks were supposed to sit.30 The next day Judge Spencer convicted the seventeen Riders of breaching the peace and meted out two-hundred-dollar fines, which fourteen of them chose to work off at the three-dollar-a-day rate. Three bonded out for five hundred dollars. It must have struck Robert Kennedy that he could try to coerce the Freedom Riders all he wanted, but it would be to no avail.

On May 29, Freedom Riders took to the rails. A group of eight integrated travelers—five black, three white—led by James Kent Davis, a twenty-one-year-old black student leader from Claflin College in South Carolina, arrived aboard the Illinois Central Railroad from New Orleans. The ubiquitous Captain Ray was on hand to arrest them at the train station, as small groups of both whites and blacks gathered a distance from the station in what the Memphis Commercial-Appeal described as (p.273) “a more or less gay mood.” Jack Young stepped in as their lawyer and requested an expedited court date for that afternoon. Spencer gave the expected sixty-day suspended sentence and two-hundred-dollar fine, which most of the train passengers refused to pay, thus heading to Hinds County jail.31 Within just a few days, fifty-two Freedom Riders had been arrested in Jackson.

Some among the new Freedom Riders were not as emotionally and mentally prepared as those who had come before them. James Farmer recalled how “many of the people who rushed in, including some of the SNCC people, were not prepared for this sort of thing.” When they first arrived, they would be firm in their commitment, saying things such as, “We're gonna stay in ’til hell freezes over,” but then, Farmer remembered, “after two days” they would be asking, “You got money to bail me out?”32 Soon after arriving in the Jackson jail, a number of the Freedom Riders staged a hunger strike to protest both their arrests and their treatment.33 This began a wave of dissension among the Freedom Riders, for while John Lewis knew that, among the new people, most “came with all their heart and soul and courage to put their bodies on the line for the cause of racial and human justice,” there were many who “were not necessarily familiar with nor committed to the way of nonviolence.” One Freedom Rider proved so difficult during the first day or two in jail that the group arranged to have him bailed out early so as not to destroy the group's morale.34 In the end, James Farmer convinced his colleagues that a hunger strike was not the best tactical decision, and soon they relented.35

The jailed Freedom Riders were committed to remain imprisoned for forty days, which was the maximum time that they could stay in jail and still file an appeal. The purpose of doing this was to make their imprisonment as expensive as possible for Mississippi, while still getting the Freedom Riders their day in court and hopefully an appeal to the Supreme Court. The whole endeavor did cost Mississippi a great deal. As Farmer later put it, “they were spending barrels of money” on police, on the costs of using the Parchman unit, on feeding the Freedom Riders, and on a whole range of other expenses.36

Writing in the CORElator, James Farmer made the point that while “jails are no new experience for most of the Riders… the Riders were definitely a new experience for Mississippi jails.”37 In the jail cells, the Freedom Riders, separated by race and gender, sang. They developed special songs for Mississippi. One, sung to the tune of the old labor anthem “Which Side Are You On,” went:

  • (p.274) They say in Hinds County,
  • No neutrals they have met,
  • You're either for the Freedom Ride
  • Or you Tom for Ross Barnett.38

The jailers hated the freedom songs. They hated the Freedom Riders. So they started to play psychological games with the imprisoned men and women, denying them anything extra, such as the ability to purchase chewing gum or candy or—even more problematic for some of the activists—cigarettes. They denied them afternoon snacks. They refused to allow them any books or newspapers. The Freedom Riders were like alien creatures to the wardens. As James Farmer conceptualized it, “They tried to extract from each one of us a confession that we were Communists, drug addicts, homosexuals, we didn't know what we were doing, or we were being paid by some organization to do it.” Dumbfounded prison guards kept saying, “Niggers don't do things like this.”39

The whites were as much of an enigma to the jailers and to many in the outside world. At one point, authorities asked David Fankhauser to meet with a journalist, who turned out to be the right-wing columnist Westbrook Pegler. Pegler's line of questioning to Fankhauser culminated with, “Do you believe in money?” in an apparent effort to draw out communist leanings in the Freedom Ride and thus to discredit the movement. Fankhauser did not take the bait, and Pegler waved him away dismissively.40

The Freedom Riders persevered. John Lewis described how Jim Bevel “took center stage with his voice and his passion, preaching to whoever was within earshot while we sang in between his impromptu sermons.”41 The singing continued throughout the summer, and even some of the regular prisoners, convicted of assault and murder and robbery, joined in the movement songs.

Many of the Freedom Riders were transferred to the Hinds County jail, which was directly across the street from the city facility. The transfer occurred late at night under an overwhelming police show of force. This was done in part to prevent any outside interference from the Klan or other vigilantes, but it also served to reinforce the power of the Jackson officials to the civil rights activists. Freedom Rider Frank Holloway recalled that “when we went in” to the county jail, “we were met by some of the meanest looking, tobacco-chewing lawmen I have ever seen. They ordered us around like a bunch of dogs and I really began to feel like I was in a Mississippi jail.”42

(p.275) Whereas the city jail facilities were relatively modern, the county jail was decrepit and poorly ventilated. The black male Freedom Riders found themselves occupying one cell block, with a series of two-bed bunks and a common room. They shared a commode in the sleeping quarters and a single washbowl in the common room. The body odors soon became virtually noxious. When Farmer wondered aloud how their white counterparts were doing, one of the first hints of interracial antagonism cropped up, as one Nashville student sneered, “Oh, they probably have a suite of rooms with hot and cold running maids.” The student then invoked an aphorism: “If you're white you're right; if you're brown, stick around; if you're black, get back.”43

If the student expected his comments to meet with a wave of support and substantiation, he was sorely disappointed. Rather than pile on with speculation about the possible privileges of their white brethren, the more experienced people spoke at once to defend their white colleagues. Bernard Lafayette derided the speaker: “Man, you gotta be from the North; you don't know nothing about the South. If they're on our side, they'll get their asses kicked more than us. They always do. Man, the whites caught more hell riding through Alabama than the Negroes did. They almost got killed.” Jim Farmer agreed with this observation and others that followed.44

One student talked about his experience on the picket lines in Memphis: “We got pushed around by the red-neck cops, but the whites got their heads split open.” Another pointed out the differential treatment at a Nashville sit-in in March: “When they got through with us, all we needed was some Band-Aids and some rubbing alcohol. But man, the whites had to go to the hospital.” In the end, the black students and their colleagues agreed with the student who said, “Yeah, man, the whites are looked at like traitors to their race, on top of everything else.”45 Throughout the Civil Rights Movement, blacks and whites cooperated in fighting injustice, but the Freedom Rides represent the apogee of this collaboration, and the spirited defense of the white Freedom Riders in that black cell block represents an understanding among the participants that white civil rights activists had earned their stripes on the battlefield. In the decades since 1961, most black Freedom Riders have continued to emphasize the importance, earnestness, and sacrifice of their white friends and fellow soldiers.

The student who suggested that the white Freedom Riders might have it easy having been chastened, thoughts turned to the women in the group. Some worried about girlfriends. Others tried not to think about matters in the women's wing. Actually, the women were in pretty good spirits, all (p.276) things considered. In a letter to CORE's Gordon Carey, Betsy Wyckoff, one of about ten female Freedom Riders from the New York City area in the Hinds County jail, wrote, “All goes on swimmingly—in more senses than one, as we sure do swelter.” She explained how most of the Freedom Riders were college aged, with the exception of “one old married woman of 26” and the occasional appearance of “an interesting local tossed in with us.” The white and black women were segregated, but the black women were in two cells on the same corridor, and they often sang songs. The presence of the other group of women “is very nice for us,” explained Wyckoff, “especially as we haven't a decent voice in the bunch, but we can enjoy listening to them and chiming in—not too loud.” A hint of the stress they were under was that “those of us who smoke have all started smoking like chimneys recently,” but in general “everyone's spirits are good,” even though “we were sad last night when some of our friends left.” There was not much for them to do in the jail, so showers had become “a principal diversion.” In all, “we are not badly off,” she assured Carey, “what with plumbing that works and plenty of mattresses.” Things improved markedly later that day when the women received clean new shirts, shorts, underwear, and toiletries from a local church group, “all of which caused morale to soar.”46

Freedom songs continued to bond the group, men and women. At two in the morning on one of their first nights in the county jail, Jim Bevel began singing another freedom song:

  • If you can't find me in the backa the bus
  • You can't find me nowhere,
  • Oh-h, come on up to the fronta the bus,
  • I'll be ridin’ up there.

  • I'll be ridin’ up there—up there
  • I'll be ridin’ up there.
  • Oh-h come on up to the fronta the bus,
  • I'll be ridin’ up there.47

They continued to sing. Soon their voices merged with the sounds of song from other wings and other floors. Women's voices came through from one wing. White male voices came through from another floor. White women joined in as well. A fellowship of song pervaded the whole Hinds County jail, white and black voices, those of men and women, ignoring the (p.277) menacing threats of the guards, ignoring the fact that it was the middle of the night. Within days the Freedom Riders had recruited the regular prisoners. The activists taught the regulars their protest songs and spirituals in exchange for learning work songs, prison songs, and even new spirituals and protest songs. Music brought people together.

Parchman Farm

Before long word came down from an old black trustee who whispered a message: “They're gonna send you to the prison farm. That's where they're gonna try to break you. They're gonna try to whip your ass.”48 In the dead of night, the paddy wagons came and brought the Freedom Riders to the Hinds County prison farm, where they stayed for just over two weeks. Frank Holloway recalled arriving at the penal farm. “When we got there, we met several men in ten-gallon hats, looking like something out of an old Western, with rifles in their hands, staring at us.”49

Conditions worsened out in the country. Part of the reason for the transfer was simply that the Freedom Riders had filled the jails in the city, and there was no more space. But from the state's perspective, the county work farm offered the prisoners extra hardships. The cells were smaller than in the city jail, and there were not enough beds for all of the prisoners, so many slept on the floor or benches or wherever they could sprawl. Although at a work farm, the Freedom Riders were not allowed to labor like the other prisoners; their only exercise was the rigorous cleaning of their cells with mops and brooms that the guards supplied. They were confined to their cells, their food rations barely enough to survive.

Sometimes the abuse became physical, such as when a guard gave Reverend C. T. Vivian a beating with a blackjack for refusing to preface remarks to the guard with “sir.” He emerged from the confrontation with blood gushing from his head.50 Vivian had been a particular thorn in the side of the guards for his unwillingness to sacrifice his dignity in the face of the epithets and intimidation that the guards daily presented.

Richard Haley of the CORE office in Chicago arrived in Jackson to investigate the assault on May 28 and filed a complaint with the FBI, which promptly began an investigation.51 This fray led to the brief suspension of Max Thomas, superintendent of the county penal farm, but he was back in place within a few days after an internal investigation found that Thomas had been hurt in the process of defending himself in a scuffle with Vivian.52 Vivian was a committed nonviolent activist, and a number of Freedom (p.278) Rider witnesses refuted the assertion that Vivian had engaged in any sort of violence, but this did not matter in the eyes of the Hinds County officials. The assault and subsequent investigations led to a dilemma for the state. Thus far they had managed to avoid the negative publicity that had so tainted Alabama. Mississippi authorities were not about to yield to the Freedom Riders, but they also could not allow police brutality to destroy the finely honed system that had served them so well. Officials chose not to send any more Freedom Riders to the Hinds County work farm. Instead, Freedom Riders would go to Jackson's city jail or the Hinds County jail in the short-term and then on to Parchman Farm.53 As James Farmer put it, “Washington was watching now,” and so the Mississippi authorities “had better not take liberties with the hated Kennedys.”54

Despite the prison-imposed news blackout, news filtered through of the flood of new Freedom Riders pouring in from the North, South, East, and West, from college campuses and churches and labor unions and all walks of life. Some were members of CORE or SNCC, responding to calls from those organizations to fill up the jails.55 Most were not. Local NAACP chapters held various fund-raisers and got the word out about the ongoing rides into Mississippi.56 The Fellowship of Reconciliation, CORE's partner in the Journey of Reconciliation fourteen years earlier, solicited both support and participation in the Rides from its members after the first wave of Jackson arrests.57 The Southern Regional Council also voiced its support and dedicated resources to helping the cause.58 The Freedom Rides had spawned a genuine and enduring movement. In all, 328 persons were jailed in Mississippi in the summer of 1961, with dozens more meeting resistance at other points across the South. There were many more who could be called “Freedom Riders” in the three months after the first students went to jail in Jackson.59

Of those arrested in the state capital, two-thirds were college students, three-fourths were men, and more than half were black. The Freedom Riders had set in motion something that had become, in James Farmer's words, “a different and far grander thing than we had intended.”60 Even as Martin Luther King Jr. somewhat bizarrely announced a “temporary lull but no cooling-off” in the Freedom Rides, a statement bound to alienate many and please none, the new wave of Riders ensured that there would be neither a lull nor a cooling.

At the same time, unprecedented contributions poured into CORE's coffers to provide much-needed financial support for the Freedom Riders. CORE gradually emerged as the most powerful and important of the (p.279) FRCC sister organizations, and it used its resources to handle much of the training, travel arrangements, financing, and logistics of the summer's deluge of protesters into Mississippi and Alabama. The FRCC established training centers in Atlanta, Nashville, and New Orleans, and CORE took primary responsibility for training volunteers for the challenges ahead. Many others traveled independently from colleges and universities, providing a model for Freedom Summer in Mississippi a couple of years down the road.

The Jackson Daily News encouraged Mississippians to stay the course in the face of new influxes of “misguided young people.” The newspaper urged its readers to “permit the officers of the law [to] handle this group without hindrance.” The editors believed that the new group came from CORE; if they tried “to create a violent incident,” the editors, urged, “let's do not be provoked by their unlawful acts into lawlessness of our own. Let's just let the officers show the invaders quietly to our jails.”61 Governor Patterson of Alabama continued to chastise the Kennedys for letting the “racial extremists” engage in an “all out ‘invasion’ of Mississippi, our sister state.”62

Only a handful of the newcomers joined the group at Hinds County's prison farm, which proved to be merely a way station en route to the place that had for generations inspired fear in black Mississippians: Parchman Farm, a place that historian David Oshinsky has described as presenting dreadful conditions that some have called “worse than slavery.”63 On the fifteenth of June, well after midnight, guards rousted the male Freedom Riders from their cramped, uncomfortable cells and marched the forty-five of them like cattle out into big trailers with no windows and no seats. The guards closed and locked the doors, leaving the Freedom Riders in total darkness as the truck pulled out for its journey up Highway 49. For a couple of hours, the prisoners stumbled into one another as the truck bounced and jostled over country highways and curves, the driver periodically slamming the brakes or taking a corner a bit too quickly, smashing the Riders against one another or into the walls of the trailer. One of the vehicles broke down, and a pickup truck carrying the group's luggage had to tow it the last few miles of the journey. When the guards finally opened the door again, the group was more than a hundred miles from Jackson, in northwest Mississippi, at Parchman State Penitentiary.

John Lewis had “heard about Parchman in the same way I'd heard about Mississippi—in tones of horror and terms of brutality. In a South filled with nightmarishly inhuman prisons and work farms, Parchman Penitentiary (p.280) was infamous for being the worst.” Fred Jones lorded over Parch-man as its superintendent. He met the Freedom Riders as they stepped off the truck. “We have some bad niggers here,” he sneered as he chewed on an unlit cigar. “We have niggers on death row that'll beat you up and cut you as soon as look at you.” Then one of the guards began herding the group toward the prison gates. “Go ahead and sing your goddamned freedom songs now,” he said. “We got niggers here that will eat you up. So you go and sing your songs inside now.”64

Just at that moment two of the white Freedom Riders, Terry Sullivan and Felix Singer, went limp, forcing the guards to drag them by their legs from the truck. “What you actin’ like that for?” one of the guards asked, amused at the antics of the young men. “Ain't no newspapermen out here.” John Lewis later acknowledged that the guard had a point: “There was nothing out there but them and us—and, oddly, a small flock of ducks and geese waddling around near the barbed-wire fence.” The fence seemed to stretch forever in both directions, serving as the perimeter of the 21,000-acre prison farm. Lewis mused that he “imagined the birds as some form of barnyard warning system, quacking and honking at the sound of escapees in the night.”65

Their fellow Freedom Riders watched as guards threw Sullivan and Singer from their van onto the sand and gravel drive and dragged them through wet grass, muddy puddles, and across a rough cement walkway. Sullivan replied to the guard's query by saying, “We refuse to cooperate because we have been unjustly imprisoned.” Eventually, the guards used a cattle prod to try to move the two men, but to no avail. The guards finally stripped the two men naked and threw them into a cell.66 The rest were told to strip as well. Then they stood there for two and a half hours, waiting to see what was next. John Lewis “could see that this was an attempt to break us down, to humiliate and dehumanize us, to rob us of our identity and self worth.” By the time they “were finally led, two by two, into a shower room guarded by a sergeant with a rifle, I thought of the concentration camps in Germany. This was 1961 in America, yet here we were, treated like animals for using the wrong restroom.”67 In the showers, those men with facial hair were told to shave.

The Freedom Riders hoped to be able to work at Parchman, but instead they found themselves confined to the maximum-security wing of the vast prison complex, which held not only the most dangerous and incorrigible prisoners but also the electric chair. The guards herded them into six-by-ten compartments, which each housed two prisoners, and gave each prisoner a (p.281) tin cup and a toothbrush. The cells were segregated. The horseshoe-shaped cellblock was not. A tall, burly guard passed shorts and tee-shirts through the bars to the men. These scanty clothes would be the male Freedom Riders’ uniform while at Parchman. As if this was not humiliating enough, the guards often gave the bigger men tiny undershorts and the smaller men big, baggy shorts. James Farmer later remembered that the “big guys were trying to hold theirs shut and the little guys were trying to stay in theirs and keep ’em from falling down.” The guards further arranged things so that big guys shared cells with big guys, small with small, to prevent clothes swapping.68 Someone complained, and James Bevel's booming voice rose above the crowd: “What's this hang-up about clothes?” He demanded from his colleagues: “Gandhi wrapped a rag around his balls and brought down the whole British Empire!69

About a week later the state shipped its first truckload of women Freedom Riders up to Parchman. The young women were split almost equally between white and black. The guards brought in the women in groups of three or four at about seven p.m. on June 23. From that point on, the goal in Jackson was to process arrests as quickly as possible and shuttle Freedom Riders from Jackson to Parchman “as soon as possible after their arrests,” according to Sheriff J. R. “Bob” Gilfoy.70 Upon arrival in Parchman, the women were issued skirts with stripes and then put into the maximum- security unit of the women's side of the prison.71

Carol Ruth Silver, a recent University of Chicago graduate, was among this initial group of women to arrive at Parchman Farm, as part of the new group of Riders to head in the direction of Mississippi after the first wave of Jackson arrests. They had arrived in Jackson, tried to use the bus facilities, and found themselves first in the Jackson city jail and then in the county jail. When they first heard about the men being transferred to Parchman, some of the women engaged in an ill-fated hunger strike that almost divided the women when a number of them, prompted by their lawyer Jack Young's admonition that a hunger strike would not be an effective protest measure, called a halt to the strike without consulting the whole group. On June 23, the women, by now numbering twenty-three, heard the news: they were going to Parchman Farm.72

Silver recalled the four-hour trip to Parchman as the most frightening aspect of the jail experience. The women, wearing shorts or slacks and, in the estimation of one journalist, “looking surprisingly fresh” given their time in the county jail, were packed into a hot, sweaty truck with bad shocks that Carol Ruth Silver felt “bounced along towards an unknown (p.282) future.”73 As they were loaded onto the bus, many of them joked and teased the police. The officers loaded black and white women together, prompting one of the Freedom Riders, a “wispy blonde,” according to a reporter, to comment, “Glory be, the cops are putting us on an integrated bus.”74 The mood was far less jocular on the way to Parchman. Three times the vehicle jolted to a stop, and the women could not help but “imagine… every horror from a waiting ambush of Ku Klux Klan to mined roads.”75

Meanwhile, earlier that same day, four black Jacksonians brought a new approach to the Freedom Ride movement when they walked into the Trailways station in Jackson and announced that they wanted to buy tickets to leave. Then they walked into the white waiting room and refused to move when told to do so, leading to their arrests. CORE representative Haley told reporters later that the action proved “that Negroes in Jackson have graduated from the wish for freedom to the act.”76

The Freedom Riders sang at Parchman as they had everywhere else. The warden threatened and cajoled the Freedom Riders to stop. These efforts just made them sing louder. The warden told them their singing bothered the cooks. David Fankhauser remembered that this complaint “seem[ed] hilarious to us, since the cooks were black trustees who clearly were getting a kick out of our spirit and defiance.”77 The warden then threatened to take their toothbrushes away, which similarly got him nowhere. Finally, on June 24, the singing got to be too much for the guards, who stormed the cell block and took the mattresses out of the cells, leaving only the cement floor or the steel bed frame upon which to sleep. The deputy had threatened to remove the mattresses earlier in the night, and Hank Thomas had shouted back, “Take my mattress! I'll keep my soul!” With that, almost everyone took their mattresses off their beds and leaned them against the cell walls so that they were right there when the guards came to seize them.78 The Freedom Riders responded with good humor at first, continuing to sing and even making up verses and songs about their newest hurdle.

The guards returned the mattresses the next night, but when the group started to sing again, the guards returned, this time with some of the other, non–Freedom Rider inmates in tow. Fred Leonard shared a cell with Stokely Carmichael, who would go on to achieve fame for his leadership in the Black Power movement.79 Leonard told Carmichael, “I'm not letting my mattress go,” even as his colleagues sang, “Freedom's coming and it won't be long.” The guards came again and started taking mattresses. Most let go peacefully, but true to his word, Leonard held on tight to his. (p.283) The guards dragged him and his mattress out into the cell block. One of the guards called to an inmate, “Peewee, get him.” Peewee was a short, muscular black inmate, and what he had to do next clearly devastated him. Leonard recalled, “Peewee came down on my head. Whomp, whomp—he was crying. Peewee was crying. And I still had my mattress. Do you remember when your parents used to whup you and say, ‘It's going to hurt me more than it hurts you’? It hurt Peewee more than it hurt me.” Leonard held tight, so the guards came by “and clamped these things on my wrists like handcuffs,” called “wristbreakers,” “and they started twisting and tightening them up—my bones started cracking… and finally I turned my mattress loose.”80

The guards blasted the cell block with fire hoses and then turned on exhaust fans full blast, bringing in the cool night air. Many of the Freedom Riders came down with colds.81 Most had no idea that it could seem so cold on a summer night in Mississippi. At the other extreme, on especially hot days, of which there were many, the guards kept the windows closed, and the Freedom Riders stewed in the suffocating heat. Lights stayed on around the clock. Sleep could be virtually impossible. The guards banged on cell doors with billy clubs at all hours. They removed screens from the windows, allowing the voracious Delta mosquitoes and other pests to ravage the Freedom Riders. The presence of the bugs provided a pretense for the guards to call in exterminators to spray DDT with what looked like a fire hose, drenching the prisoners with the toxic fumes and liquid.82

The women faced similar difficulties. When they sang, they lost their mattresses. They tried to sing the “Star-Spangled Banner,” and they lost their sheets. Then the guards took their towels and toothbrushes. At one point Ruby Doris Smith faced physical abuse from the prison guards when she refused to take a shower without sandals. The women guards forced her into the shower area in handcuffs, scrubbed her forcefully with a brush, and knocked her down several times while holding on to the handcuffs.83

Smith and nine other black women were eventually taken to live in the prison infirmary. Conditions were much better there, but through the windows they could see the prison work detail out in the fields: “There were fifty, sixty Negro men in striped uniforms, guarded by a white man on a white horse. It reminded you of slavery.”84 One of the Freedom Riders miscarried while a prison guard watched and did nothing. The two months Smith spent imprisoned for her activities with the Freedom Riders (p.284) proved to be profoundly transformative, helping her to grow as a political and tactical movement leader and instilling strength and confidence within her. At one point during Smith's incarceration, Ella Baker wrote Smith a letter in which she expressed her “continued pride in the courage you have manifested on more than one occasion.” She hoped that Smith's “present experience has not been too trying for you” and “that your health will not suffer” as a result of her jail experience. Baker's biographer Barbara Ransby has argued, “In seeking to strengthen the resolve and confidence of Smith and other young women, Baker wanted them to rise toward leadership roles in the larger movement.”85

As a consequence of all the travails, the mood inevitably turned sour in the cell block. When a group of Freedom Riders braved the wrath of the guards by singing further, several of the authorities tightly slapped the same sort of “wrist breakers” on them that they had used on Fred Leonard and dragged the students down the hall by these clamps, tossing them in six-by-six-foot solitary confinement boxes for two days. Some of the students sang “I'm Going to Tell God How You Treat Me” as they were pulled to their confinement.

Meanwhile, as the days and weeks passed, more Freedom Riders, men and women, rolled into Parchman, past the razor-wire fences and guard towers, past the endless acres of prisoners laboring. They usually came in on gray prison buses with metal seats and bars on the windows.

At one point Ross Barnett paid a visit. Many of the Freedom Riders recognized the governor from his pictures. He stopped at James Farmer's cell, and after exchanging introductions, he asked, “Are they treating you all right here?” Farmer responded by saying, “Well, there's been no brutality, no physical brutality. We haven't been beaten or anything.” Barnett responded, satisfied, “You got no complaints?” Farmer was shocked: “I didn't say that. The biggest complaint is that we are here.” Barnett just nodded and walked off.86 Barnett had instructed the Parchman authorities not to engage in brutality against the prisoners, although the guards had a pretty long tether.

Soon after, Farmer went before the prison superintendent to protest their treatment. Accompanied by two guards, he desperately tried to keep his undershorts, which he could not button, from falling. When he got to the office of the director of prisons, he was forced to stand nearly naked while a well-dressed man sat smoking a cigar.87 Farmer pleaded his case, hoping for some sort of compromise, but instead he was told that things would get worse for the group if they did not start to cooperate. Farmer asked (p.285) for a written list of rules to clarify what was meant by cooperation, but he was rebuffed there as well. The Freedom Riders then worked together to develop their own list of rules based on the principle that they wanted to respect the authorities but deserved to be treated as human beings.

Some of the Freedom Riders resumed fasting. Price Chatham lost about thirty-five pounds. He was one of a handful who, in the words of Freedom Rider and Parchman detainee William Mahoney, “fasted until there was a thin line between life and death.”88 Chatham, a twenty-nine-year-old white man from East Rockaway, New York, continued his hunger strike for more than twenty days before relenting and taking food. At one point Chatham's young son, Rhys, wrote the Kennedys in scrawling penmanship. “My father is in a big prison. He is a Freedom Rider,” Rhys Chatham pleaded, “not a criminal. I can't get in touch with my father any more. My mother is worried. He wasn't eating for 20 days now. Please get him out of prison.” On June 30, Rhys received a response from Harris Wofford. “Dear Mister Chatham,” wrote the President's Special Assistant. “The President wants me to thank you for your letter about your father. I am happy to hear your father is now eating. When your father comes home he will talk with you about the reason he stayed in prison.” Wofford also sent the young boy a copy of the petition the attorney general had filed with the Interstate Commerce Commission.89 The New Frontiersmen, it is clear, had a deft way with children.

Others did not fast, and some behaved ignobly by gorging themselves in front of those who did, many of whom gave in after a few days or less. Then again, the food was atrocious. Even those who did not fast often ate as little as possible. Sometimes the authorities saturated the food with salt. Sometimes it arrived cold or even uncooked. Portly James Farmer lost thirty pounds, and he did not even fast.90 David Fankhauser remembered the Parchman meal regimen: “Breakfast every morning was coffee strongly flavored with chicory, grits, biscuits and blackstrap molasses. Lunch was generally some form of beans or black-eyed peas boiled with pork gristle and cornbread. Evening was the same as lunch except it was cold.” Nonetheless, “after fasting for twelve days,” Fankhauser “ate everything with gusto.”91

The activists persevered. They carried out group devotions in which they prayed and sang. They used the tunes of spirituals, work songs, and union songs and made up lyrics based on their experiences as Freedom Riders. The only reading material they were permitted was the Bible—except for the whites, who were also given copies of Carleton Putnam's (p.286) pseudoscientific anthropological quackery, Race and Reason—A Yankee View, a publication popular among the Citizens’ Council crowd. They did their best to fight off boredom. Often they argued over tactics and philosophy. Given the constraints under which they operated, disputes occasionally grew heated. Twice a week they left their cells to shower. Once a week they were allowed to write a letter. Unlike Lucretia Collins, Lewis elected not to post bond to attend his graduation from American Baptist Theological Seminary that summer. “It was unreal in a way to be sitting in a Mississippi penal farm's maximum security cellblock while many of my classmates were marching in procession in their commencement caps and gowns,” Lewis later wrote. “But I really felt there was no better place for me to be than right where I was.”92

Eventually, outsiders with a certain amount of influence began to look more closely at what was going on in Parchman. One morning the warden was clearly in a conciliatory mood. He claimed that they had all gotten off on the wrong foot and gave the prisoners back their bedding, Bibles, toothbrushes, and everything else he had confiscated. In return he asked them to keep the singing down and restricted to certain times. This largesse did not come from a change of heart or a spirit of reconciliation. Delegations from various states were beginning to express interest in the plight of the Riders.

The activists had gotten the word out to their connections in the civil rights community, and in July a group from Minnesota visited Parchman on behalf of that state's governor.93 A few of the Freedom Riders came from that Northern bastion of progressivism, and the visiting delegation wanted to see firsthand what sort of treatment the civil rights workers were receiving. The authorities confined the Minnesotans to one section, and when the visitors came, the guards did not allow them past the cells into which the Minnesota Freedom Riders had been shifted. For whatever reason, when asked about their treatment, the students understated the level of deprivation and maltreatment. David Fankhauser, in a cell adjacent to one of the Minnesota cells, called out that he was sure other Freedom Riders would have information that they would want to hear. One of the guards tried to intervene, infuriating some of the dignitaries and causing them to threaten that they would report that the Parchman authorities were uncooperative. After lengthy negotiations, the delegation visited the whole wing and got a more complete picture of conditions in the prison. Soon some things improved—the window screens were put back in place and the bedding returned. They were even granted the right to receive (p.287) correspondence, though this was a Pyrrhic victory, as most letters were severely censored. Fankhauser remembered getting one letter that said, “Dear David,” and then “the whole rest of the letter was cut out leaving a hole,” with the closing “good bye” left intact.94 Nonetheless, according to at least one Freedom Rider, the visit of the Minnesota delegation and the resulting improvements “raised morale considerably”; it was his hope that CORE might be able to arrange more such outside contacts and shows of concern.95

At five o'clock on the afternoon of July 7, those remaining from the first groups of Freedom Riders were released on appeal bonds of five hundred dollars provided by CORE. They had served their forty days in jail and wanted to preserve their right to appeal their sentences. The guards handed the haggard new releases the things with which they had arrived, returned their clothes, and accompanied them to the front gate. There a small group of friends and lawyers waited to greet them. There were solemn hugs, and the group piled into a line of cars that drove them away. When this first group left, there were still one hundred Freedom Riders—the reinforcements sent in by the Freedom Ride Coordinating Committee—confined at Parchman, and these numbers continued to grow. In the next few days, another group was released. This pattern continued through the summer, with new Freedom Riders coming in, about to face whatever Parchman Farm had to offer, while grizzled veterans departed after forty days.

When David Fankhauser left Parchman Farm on Sunday, July 9, just two days after the release of the first group, one of the most hostile of the guards approached him as he dressed. The guard “came up to me and said that he hoped there were no hard feelings. He said he was only doing his job, didn't I understand, and that he didn't personally hate us. I thought that was a very positive statement for him to say.”96

The Freedom Rides and the subsequent events in Mississippi's jails, especially Parchman Farm, were, in the words of imperturbable civil rights activist Reverend C. T. Vivian, “a national action.” Vivian argued: “Now we were challenging states’ rights, we were challenging the laws across state lines and people came from all over the country. That's the first time people had come from all over the country into a major movement.” Jail merely served to reinforce everything the activists believed in. In Vivian's words: “The feeling of people coming out of the jail was one that they had triumphed, that they had achieved, that they were now ready, they could go back home, they could be a witness to a new understanding. Nonviolence (p.288) was proven in that respect. It had become a national movement and there was no doubt about it, for common people in many places in the country. And there was a new cadre of leaders.”97

The summer progressed, and the Freedom Riders did not relent. The Kennedy administration would finally and unequivocally have to intervene as the Civil Rights Movement forged inexorably onward.


(1) . Baltimore Afro-American, June 3, 1961.

(2) . Quoted in Goldstein, Williams Sloane Coffin Jr., 113–14.

(3) . Goldstein, Williams Sloane Coffin Jr., 116.

(4) . Quoted in Goldstein, Williams Sloane Coffin Jr., 116–17.

(5) . Quoted in Schlesinger, Robert Kennedy and His Times, 321. Variation quoted in Wofford, Of Kennedys and Kings, 156.

(6) . Quoted in Wofford, Of Kennedys and Kings, 156.

(7) . Marshall, Oral History, May 29, 1964.

(8) . See Goldstein, William Sloane Coffin Jr., 115.

(9) . Quoted in Time, June 2, 1961.

(10) . Quoted in Memphis Commercial-Appeal, May 27, 1961. See also Goldstein, William Sloane Coffin, Jr., 119.

(11) . “Freedom Ride,” May 1961.

(12) . Perkins, “My 291 Days with CORE,” 16.

(13) . See Goldstein, William Sloane Coffin Jr., 122.

(14) . Clarion-Ledger, May 26, 1961. On the role of communism and civil rights more generally, see Woods, Black Struggle, Red Scare; G. Lewis, White South and the Red Menace.

(15) . Farmer, interview, in Raines, My Soul Is Rested, 126.

(16) . Farmer, Oral History, Apr. 25, 1979.

(17) . Memphis Commercial-Appeal, May 27, 1961.

(18) . Memphis Commercial-Appeal, May 27, 1961. See also Leonard, interview, in Hampton and Fayer, Voices of Freedom, 94; J. Lewis, Walking with the Wind, 170.

(19) . SCLC, press release, May 24, 1961, NAACP Papers, group III, box A136, General Office File: Freedom Ride, 1961–1962; SCLC, Report of May 26, 1961, Meeting, CORE Papers, series 5, box 26, folder 1, “SCLC.”

(20) . Robert Kennedy, Voice of America address, May 25, 1961, Robert F. Kennedy Papers, “CR in Alabama, May 23–25, 1961,” box 10.

(21) . Jackson Daily News, May 25, 1961.

(22) . Jackson Daily News, May 25, 1961.

(23) . Memphis Commercial Appeal, May 26, 1961.

(24) . Clarion Ledger and Jackson Daily News, May 28, 1961.

(25) . Quoted in Jackson Daily News, June 23, 1961. See also Katagiri, Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, 97.

(26) . Jackson Daily News, May 28, 1961; Memphis Commercial-Appeal, May 28, 1961. See also Collins, “Freedom Ride.”

(27) . Memphis Commercial-Appeal, May 29, 1961.

(28) . See “Freedom Ride: Notes from the Memory of David Fankhauser,” Feb. 12, 1995, Feb. 19, 1998, Oct. 20, 1998, Dec. 4, 1998, http://biology.clc.uc.edu/Fankhauser/Society/freedom_rides/Freedom_Ride_DBF.htm (transcript in author's possession). See also Fankhauser File, Birmingham Police Surveillance Files, 1947–1980, File #1125.5.19(b).

(29) . “Freedom Ride: Notes from the Memory of David Fankhauser.”

(30) . Memphis Commercial Appeal, May 29, 1961.

(31) . Memphis Commercial Appeal, May 31, 1961. That same day's Jackson Daily News ran another two-column, full-page, scathing editorial about the Freedom Riders, counterpoising Mississippi with the urban North.

(32) . Farmer, interview, in Raines, My Soul Is Rested, 126.

(33) . The announced hunger strikes took place among an undisclosed number of inmates in both the city and the county jails (Jackson Daily News, June 1, 1961).

(34) . J. Lewis, Walking with the Wind, 169–70.

(35) . Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart, 11.

(36) . Farmer, interview, Sept. 28, 1968.

(37) . Quoted in Peck, Freedom Ride, 143.

(38) . Quoted in Dittmer, Local People, 90.

(39) . Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart, 8.

(40) . “Freedom Ride: Notes from the Memory of David Fankhauser.”

(41) . J. Lewis, Walking with the Wind, 169.

(42) . Holloway, New South, July-Aug. 1961.

(43) . Quoted in Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart, 9.

(44) . Quoted in Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart, 9.

(45) . Quoted in Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart, 9.

(46) . Elizabeth Wyckoff to Gordon Carey, June 15, 1961, in “Mississippi Letters,” CORE Papers, series 5, box 62, folder 3.

(47) . Quoted in Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart, 10.

(48) . Quoted in Farmer, interview, in Raines, My Soul Is Rested, 126–27.

(49) . Holloway, New South, July-Aug. 1961.

(50) . See Holloway, New South, July-Aug. 1961.

(51) . Memphis Commercial-Appeal, May 30, 1961.

(52) . Memphis Commercial Appeal, June 3, 1961.

(53) . See Dittmer, Local People, 96. For an example of a letter from a Freedom Rider biding his time in the city jail before being shipped to Parchman, see Gordon Harris's letters to his family, June 26, June 30, 1961, in “Mississippi Letters,” CORE Papers, series 5, box 62, folder 3.

(54) . Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart, 7. The administration did keep close tabs on events in Mississippi jails throughout the summer. Though there was no administration intervention, the president's Civil Rights Subcabinet Group met several times throughout the summer of 1961. See Notes from Civil Rights Subcabinet group meetings, June-July 1961, John F. Kennedy Presidential Papers, White House Staff Files, Harris C. Wofford Jr. File, folder 2, box 14.

(55) . See, e.g., Gordon Carey, telegram, May 29, 1961, CORE Papers, series 5, box 62, folder 12.

(56) . See, e.g., NAACP Papers, group III, box A136, General Office File: Freedom Rides, 1961–1962.

(57) . Lewis Everline and Abraham Bassford to Al Hassler/FOR, June 1, 1961, Swarthmore Peace Collection, DG 13, series E, box 19.

(58) . See, e.g., SRC letters, in Marion A. Wright Papers, series 1, folder 142, “SRC—June-Aug. 1961,” Southern Historical Collection.

(59) . Arsenault, in his invaluable appendix to Freedom Riders, places the total number of Freedom Riders (excluding the Journey of Reconciliation) at 436 (533–87).

(60) . Quoted in Dittmer, Local People, 95.

(61) . Jackson Daily News, May 28, 1961. On the role of Ward and the Jackson Daily News generally, see Davies and Smith, “Jimmy Ward and the Jackson Daily News.

(62) . John Patterson to John F. Kennedy, June 3, 1961, in memorandum to RFK, Robert F. Kennedy Papers, Attorney General's General Correspondence, “CR in Alabama, Jan.-June 1961,” box 9.

(63) . Oshinsky, “Worse Than Slavery.”

(64) . J. Lewis, Walking with the Wind, 171. See also Holloway, New South, July-Aug. 1961.

(65) . J. Lewis, Walking with the Wind, 171. See also Roberts and Klibanoff, Race Beat, 254.

(66) . William Mahoney, quoted in Peck, Freedom Ride, 147–48.

(67) . J. Lewis, Walking with the Wind, 171.

(68) . Farmer, interview, in Raines, My Soul Is Rested, 127.

(69) . Quoted in J. Lewis, Walking with the Wind, 172; Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart, 23.

(70) . Jackson State Times, June 24, 1961.

(71) . Zinn, SNCC, 54.

(72) . See Schultz, Going South, 36–41, passim. Among these women were Silver, Helene Wilson, Teri Perlman, Joan Trumpauer, Jane Rossett, Betsy Wychoff (who had arrived first among this group and whose arrests occurred between June 4 and June 23), Del Greenblatt, Winona Beamer, Lee Berman, Claire O'Connor, Kathy Pleune, Jo Adler, Kay Kittle, Elizabeth Slade Hirschfield, and Pauline Knight. This is not an exhaustive list but rather reflects those named in Silver's own diaries as recounted in Schultz.

(73) . Schultz, Going South, 41 (first quotation); Jackson State Times, June 24, 1961 (second quotation).

(74) . Quoted in Jackson State Times, June 24, 1961.

(75) . Quoted in Schultz, Going South, 41.

(76) . Jackson State Times, June 24, 1961.

(77) . “Freedom Ride: Notes from the Memory of David Fankhauser.”

(78) . J. Lewis, Walking with the Wind, 173.

(79) . See Carmichael, Ready for Revolution, 178–215.

(80) . Leonard, interview, in Hampton and Fayer, Voices of Freedom, 95–96. See also Williams, Eyes on the Prize; Carmichael, Ready for Revolution, 205–6.

(81) . See, e.g., Fred Clark, Oral History, Mississippi Oral History Program of the University of Southern Mississippi; Carmichael, Ready for Revolution, 206.

(82) . “Freedom Ride: Notes from the Memory of David Fankhauser.”

(83) . Schultz, Going South, 42.

(84) . Quoted in Zinn, SNCC, 55.

(85) . Ransby, Ella Baker, 292. If fomenting women's leadership roles was one of Baker's goals, she achieved it, for as Ransby points out, Smith would go on five years later to become the first woman to serve as SNCC's executive secretary, succeeding James Forman.

(86) . Farmer, Oral History, Apr. 25, 1979.

(87) . Farmer, Oral History, Apr. 25, 1979.

(88) . Quoted in Peck, Freedom Ride, 150.

(89) . Memo on Price Chatham, June 21, 1961, Burke Marshall Papers, Chronological File June 1961, box 1; Rhys Chatham to President Kennedy, June 21, 1961, and Wofford to Rhys Chatham, June 30, 1961, both Harris Wofford papers, alphabetical file, “Freedom Rides,” box 3.

(90) . Farmer, interview, in Raines, My Soul Is Rested, 127.

(91) . “Freedom Ride: Notes from the Memory of David Fankhauser.”

(92) . J. Lewis, Walking with the Wind, 172.

(93) . “Chronology of Events Involving Freedom Rides,” NAACP papers, group III, box A136, General Office File: “Freedom Rides 1961–1961.”

(94) . “Freedom Ride: Notes from the Memory of David Fankhauser.”

(95) . Unknown male Freedom Rider to CORE, n.d., “Mississippi Letters,” CORE Papers, series 5, box 62, folder 3.

(96) . “Freedom Ride: Notes from the Memory of David Fankhauser.”

(97) . C. T. Vivian, interview, in Hampton and Fayer, Voices of Freedom, 96.