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Remembering the Freedom Riders
The civil rights movement was a time of intense conflict, but also a time of great courage. On February 23, we were privileged to host a program about the 1961 Mississippi Freedom Rides.
We hosted two Mississippi natives for the program. Miller Green, now living in Chicago, was arrested in a Jackson bus station. Eric Etheridge is an author whose book is Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Mississippi Freedom Riders.
Late in 1960, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling outlawed segregation in interstate bus terminals. On May 4, 1961, there were 13 people who made the first Freedom Ride to test the compliance of bus stations with the ruling. This, and subsequent rides, encountered increasingly violent resistance. Though there were Freedom Rides across the South, the campaign’s primary focus became Jackson, Mississippi. More than 300 Riders were arrested there, photographed, and convicted of breach of peace.
In 2004, journalist Eric Etheridge, a Mississippi native, ran across the mug shots of some 328 Freedom Riders arrested in Jackson. Etheridge decided to publish the photographs and, where possible, include new photos and stories of the Riders.
Green shared stories of his arrest on July 6, 1961 at the Trailways terminal in Jackson, and his harrowing experiences in jail. After his release, Green worked on voter registration and civil rights issues in Mississippi, and moved to Chicago where he has lived since 1963.
He also talked about his childhood friend, Bobby Joe, a white boy. Miller and Bobby Joe were the only children in their Yazoo City neighborhood, and played together constantly. “We were in each other’s houses, eating at each other’s tables, together all the time,” he said. One day, when the boys were around 6 years old, Bobby Joe’s mother received an anonymous letter criticizing the parents for allowing the boys to play together. At this point, both families agreed it would be too dangerous to let them continue playing.
From that point on, the boys would stand across from each other, on opposite sites of the street, and talk. Each boy would play alone, imagining the other was with him. “It left a scar,” Miller said, putting his hand on his chest.
See also: Authors@Google: Eric Etheridge, June 24, 2008
Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Mississippi Freedom Riders