Sixties Flashback: Fearing for Your Life in Mississippi
- November 20, 2010
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It was spring break, 1959, and three other Purdue students and I were cruising down Highway 51, deep in the Mississippi Delta, heading for New Orleans in my 1954 Ford. All of a sudden my engine started to shake, and before we knew it we were broken down on the side of the rode, looking for a tow into the nearest town.
It was two years before the Freedom Rides, but the residents of that Mississippi county were already on edge. Detectives had been poking around the region, looking for clues about the lynching of Mack Clark Parker, a high profile victim. And there we were, four northern “outsiders” who just suddenly showed up. It was a long time before we got that tow. But at least nobody beat us up.
The Freedom Riders who set out to test the 1960 Supreme Court decision that struck down segregation in public interstate transportation weren’t so lucky. On May 4, 1961 the first Freedom Riders (seven blacks and six whites) set out from Washington D.C. on Greyhound and Trailway buses to test the ruling in the racially segregated restaurants and waiting rooms of southern bus terminals.
They didn’t even make it to Mississippi. In Alabama one of the buses was fire bombed and all the Freedom Riders were beaten by an angry mob. When I saw those pictures, all the emotions I had felt in Mississippi came flooding back.
But that violence didn’t stop the Freedom Riders. Over 60 more Freedom Rides took place in the months to follow, with more than 300 arrested in Jackson, Mississippi alone. These Freedom Rides brought national attention to the violent activities of die-hard segregationists and did much to legitimize the civil rights movement at a critical time.
Do You Remember?
Seeing pictures of the Freedom Rider’s fire-bombed bus in Anniston, Alabama in May of 1961?