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Freedom Rider Diary

Freedom Rider Diary: Smuggled Notes from Parchman Prison

Carol Ruth Silver
Introduction by Raymond Arsenault
Photo Essay by Claude A. Liggins
Afterword by Cherie A. Gaines
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Freedom Rider Diary
    Book Description:

    Arrested as a Freedom Rider in June of 1961, Carol Ruth Silver, a twenty-two-year-old recent college graduate originally from Massachusetts, spent the next forty days in Mississippi jail cells, including the Maximum Security Unit at the infamous Parchman Prison Farm. She chronicled the events and her experiences on hidden scraps of paper which amazingly she was able to smuggle out. These raw written scraps she fashioned into a manuscript, which has waited, unread for more than fifty years.Freedom Rider Diaryis that account.

    Freedom Riders were civil rights activists who rode interstate buses into the segregated southern United States in 1961 to test the U.S. Supreme Court rulings outlawing segregation in interstate bus and terminal facilities. Brutality and arrests inflicted on the Riders called national attention to the disregard for federal law and the local violence used to enforce segregation. Police arrested Riders for trespassing, unlawful assembly, and violating state and local Jim Crow laws, along with other alleged offenses, but they often allowed white mobs to attack the Riders without arrest or intervention.

    Though a number of books recount the Freedom Rides as part of the larger civil rights story, this book offers a heretofore unavailable detailed diary from a woman Freedom Rider along with an introduction by historian Raymond Arsenault, author of the definitive history of the Freedom Rides. In a personal essay detailing her life before and after the Freedom Rides, Silver explores what led her to join the movement and explains how, galvanized by her actions and those of her compatriots in 1961, she spent her life and career fighting for civil rights. Framing essays and personal and historical photographs make the diary an ideal book for the general public, scholars, and students of the movement that changed America.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-979-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-2)
    Raymond Arsenault

    In 1961, Carol Ruth Silver became a Freedom Rider. A twenty-two-year-old secretary working at the United Nations headquarters in New York, she was one of the 436 seemingly “ordinary” individuals who participated in an extraordinary civil rights campaign that transformed the character of American democracy. Breaking precedent and ignoring both conventional wisdom and the advice of their elders, Carol and her fellow Freedom Riders employed a confrontational strategy of nonviolent direct action that took the civil rights struggle out of the courtroom and into the streets of the Jim Crow South.

    Through a remarkable display of courage and audacity, they...

  5. Chapter 1 NEW YORK
    (pp. 3-18)

    And why not me? I have no excuse for not going—I am not in school, my job is not permanent, financially I can afford to spend two months or so not working. I can even afford a bus ticket to Jackson, Mississippi, since all year I have been planning to take a bus trip this summer.

    The idea of my going first occurred to me a couple of nights ago. I think that even then it was already in the form of “why not?” Even at that point I knew that I would really have to go.

    But it...

  6. Chapter 2 TRAVELING SOUTH
    (pp. 19-22)

    To the northerner, to me, the honeysuckle was the first thing apparent in Virginia, an odor amazingly sweet and clear and fresh, and all-pervasive. The second thing I noticed was segregation, equally common and clear, but certainly not sweet.

    The nominally integrated bus depot at Richmond, Virginia, still has two restrooms for women. The identifying signs “WHITE” and “COLORED” have been effaced, leaving an ugly scar on each door. In the restaurant there is a large cafeteria and a small, separate lunch counter. Most of the Negroes on our bus went to the counter, except for one slight, collegiate young...

  7. Chapter 3 THE CRIME
    (pp. 23-25)

    The ride through Tennessee and Mississippi was relatively uneventful. Two police cars fell in behind the bus at the Mississippi border and, sometimes joined by more, followed us all the way to Jackson.

    At a whistle stop in Tennessee one of the Yale divinity students, Ed Kale, got out and began “discussing” the desirability of desegregation. The people there were getting rather ugly, with a grinning cop standing by observing, when the driver told him curtly to reboard the bus.

    We stopped in Memphis for breakfast, and ate together in the integrated terminal restaurant—almost. I sat at a different...

  8. Chapter 4 JUSTICE
    (pp. 26-31)

    The Jackson city jail cell in which I found myself was the size of a large living room, divided down the middle by a set of bars in which there was an open sliding door. In the back section were four iron cots with thin, clean-looking mattresses. The front section contained a shower partially hidden by a transparent glass brick dividing wall, a toilet and a sink, along the wall in which the door was located. This wall also had a small window (four by four inches) and a slot (three by twelve inches), which was for food pans as...

  9. Chapter 5 HINDS COUNTY JAIL
    (pp. 32-40)

    The county jail cell was about half the size of the city jail cell and much less modern. Instead of cream-colored tile, the walls were painted, cream-color cement, with the cement floor painted battleship gray and worn bare in spots. Two barred windows looked out on the upper edge of a cement wall which filled three-fourths of the view; a lowering sky completed it. Four steel shelf beds were ranged along the walls, two side by side under the windows and one each on the side walls. A shower and a toilet and sink combination (sort of like a Pullman...

    (pp. 41-54)

    Big excitement all day (and night)—the boys to the penitentiary? or not?! They did not go this morning, and Helene offered to make book that they would not go at all.

    Things were quiet all day, except for a variation on our visitors from Boys’ State. This time it was Girls’ State, a dozen or so girls in starched and ironed summer dresses, with hair stylishly neat and careful makeup. I cannot tell why, but these I resented even more than I had the boys. It took all of the nonviolence I could muster to keep me from disliking...

    (pp. 55-69)

    The night ride in the paddy wagon between Jackson and Parchman took about four hours, and was more frightening than any previous part of this whole jail experience. Twenty-three girls, about half and half white and Negro together, were crowded into one old army-transport-type truck. It was completely lacking in springs, and bounced us along toward an unknown future. Many of us had black-and-blue marks when we arrived, because the drivers delighted in stopping and starting suddenly, which threw us against each other and the sharp corners of the seats. We sang, of course, to keep our courage up.


    (pp. 70-85)

    Del was sick again today, this time feeling really bad. We yelled for the doctor and got the jailers, who repeated their comments of the first time. As one of them was walking out he remarked in a loud voice, “Y’all know, we’ve got a graveyard at this prison, too.” We were infuriated, and when Del was feeling even worse after about a half hour, we began shouting and banging again. This time the trusty answered, from the outer hall, saying that the doctor was coming, and that we-all had better be quiet or the jailer would take away our...

  13. Chapter 9 OUT!
    (pp. 86-93)

    “July 15, 1961—Saturday—want out, out, out!!! Washed floors.”

    That was the last entry in my prison diary notes, for at 2:30 p.m. that day we were in a truck bouncing toward Jackson. Terry and I, Shirley Thompson, Joan Trumpauer, Gwen Greene, and three boys, one white and two Negro, were all in the truck, integrated every which way—boys and girls, Negroes and whites—and bound for freedom!

    None of us had expected to be sprung that day, and Terry and I had already resigned ourselves to spending not only until the following Tuesday, the regular release day...

  14. Chapter 10 AND OFF
    (pp. 94-101)

    At 4:30 p.m., I left New Orleans for Houston, Laredo, and Mexico City. Shirley, Alice, Jean, and Jerome Smith came down to see me off. All of us walked into the Greyhound bus station wearing buttons which said “Freedom Ride CORE.” I already had my ticket, but when I asked for a timetable, the clerk looked up, gave me the schedule, and, as I stood there for a moment with my four Negro friends checking the time for the next bus, we saw him rush to the back and start dialing the telephone. We killed about fifteen minutes having coffee...

  15. Chapter 11 AND BACK
    (pp. 102-112)

    Off to Jackson, once again! Even though we have known for almost a week that we would probably, and then certainly, have to go back to Jackson, still no one seems to have any real idea about what will happen when we get there. Even on such a simple thing as housing, it seems to be a group deduction rather than any concrete information from Jackson which has made us believe we will be staying in dorms at Tougaloo College. In one letter I saw we were told we would be staying “nine miles out of the City,” which is...

  16. Chapter 12 EVENTS
    (pp. 113-122)

    The ride into Jackson was uneventful. It was dark and few people noticed our being sirened through all of the traffic lights by our escort of police cars. The Masonic Temple is located in the middle of downtown Jackson, on Lynch Street. When we entered, it was almost full, a sea of Negro faces (although I became aware later that there were some whites among them, even some Jackson whites, particularly from Temple Beth Israel, the Jewish congregation in Jackson). As we filed to the seats reserved for us, the people of Jackson stood up and cheered us. I felt...

  17. Chapter 13 “COMES NOW THE DEFENDANT . . .”
    (pp. 123-136)

    No Freedom Rider diary entries.

    I called Tom Gaither, the CORE field secretary in Jackson, from a pay phone, as soon as I got off the plane and into the Jackson airport at 1:00 p.m. I knew full well that my plane was late and that I had missed my trial date at 9:00 a.m. that morning. (It was this same Tom Gaither, I was told, who had first proposed to James Farmer the idea of restarting the Freedom Rides in early 1961.)

    “Well, well, welcome to Jackson, Mississippi!” Tom said. “I’m afraid I have some rather bad news for...

    (pp. 137-144)
    Cherie A. Gaines

    I was both flattered and honored when Carol Ruth Silver asked me to prepare an afterword for the diary of her experiences as an arrested, prosecuted, and then imprisoned Freedom Rider. I felt honored because Carol Ruth is an extraordinary person who has “kept the faith” and sought to correct injustices well beyond the years this book encompasses. Her asking anything of me was and is an honor.

    I felt flattered because Carol Ruth is such an extraordinary person, and it is nice to think she values me almost as much as I value her. But realistically I understood that...

    (pp. 145-152)

    Claude Albert Liggins was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, to parents Theo Liggins and Earlie Vee Thomas, and he grew up there.

    Claude remembers that his mother had very strong feelings about the racial injustices experienced by black people in Lake Charles. Also, his third-grade schoolteacher, Mrs. Carether Pork-Roy, and his eighth-grade teacher, Miss Rupert Florence Richardson (who later became a member of the national board of the NAACP), taught him to be proud of himself and to be proud of the great black men and women who worked to advance the race.

    One of his first lessons about segregation...

    (pp. 153-176)
    Carol Ruth Silver

    The question I am most commonly asked is: Why? Why did you go on the Freedom Rides?

    This question asks who I was, and how I had become who I was, in May 1961, when I made the decision to join the Freedom Rides.

    The answer goes all the way back to my earliest memory—corresponding with the United States Department of Agriculture about how to grow pearls in an oyster farm, which I proposed to locate in the bathtub of my family’s modest apartment in Revere, Massachusetts.

    That my parents, Mildred and Nathan Silver, were supportive of me in...

    (pp. 177-178)
    (pp. 179-180)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 181-188)
  24. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)