We left off last on July 11. Jimmie Travis and Luvaugh Brown integrated the Walgreen's lunch counter in Jackson, MS and were met with arrest. Not what you or I would expect to have happen at any lunch counter, or at any modern day Walgreens (which is now spelled without the possessive apostrophe).
Next up were Eddie Austin, Charles Cox, and Carl Hamilton of Jackson, MS, and William Baker of Port Gibson, MS. Same lunch counter. Different day. July 13.
As with July 11, they were all men of color. I try to guess their stories as I look into each of their faces. One in particular grabs me, and I wonder which of these young faces your gaze would drift to.
Just two days later, July 13, another group would volunteer to take on the New Orleans, LA to Jackson, MS Greyhound route. Twelve ordinary people cum activists. Nine men, three women. Five, men of color, the remainder, white. They were Mr. Carroll Barber, Charles Booth, Robert Owens, Jean Pestana, Rose Rosenberg, Leon Russ, Jr., and Jack Wolfson, all of Los Angeles, CA, more than half of them no longer with us. I would love to hear from anyone who knew them. They were joined by Ray Cooper of Spokane, WA, Marilyn Eisenberg of Van Nuys, CA, David Richards, of Reseda, CA, and Leo Washington of New Orleans, LA. Mr. Richards passed on 21 years ago.
Music City Nashville, TN to Jackson, MS, was the Greyhound route of July 16, 1961. Eight recruits volunteered. Mostly from the east coast. Only one was a person of color. He was James Dennis of Los Angeles, CA. Mary Freelong, of Telford, PA, Philip Havey of Staten Island, NY, Rudolph Mitaritonna of Bronx, NY, Shirley Smith of New York, NY, and Bill Svanoe, also of New York, NY, rode with James Warren of Philadelphia, PA, and Lewis Zuchman of Bridgeport, CT. Freelon, Smith, and Mitaritonna are no longer with us.
These volunteers were urged to keep their political identities under wraps. But at some point during the ride, Svanoe was outed. As a result, for part of the ride, he ended up with a 45mm automatic held to his head, courtesy of the mean, slur-spewing, drunk ex-Marine beside him, at the other end of the pistol.
July 19. Three days after Svanoe talked down his racist seat mate, the late Richard Haley of Chicago, IL, and Hellen O'Neal McCray (pictured above) took their turn in Jackson.
Hellen Jean O'Neal McCray, from Claksdale, MS, was born in 1941. I look into her face, and I see resolve. She was called. Twenty when she stepped up for her Freedom Ride in 1961, I don't think she ever really got off the bus.
McCray had recently become a participant in the Jackson Nonviolent Movement -- which she'd dropped out of Jackson State University to join, earning her the admiration of her stepfather...and the ire of her mother. Check out what McCray had to say about it in Eric Etheridge's expanded edition of Breach of Peace.
Resolved or not, I'm sure McCray's behind was feeling toasty from the combination of fury her mother was breathing stirred into tensions of being a person of color in her time and place. The lives of people in the movement, particularly people of color, and most especially those in the south, were more of a hot mess of fear and tension than anything most of you or I are likely dealing with at the moment.
In 1963, McCray joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), where she was involved in canvassing and organizing, and held instrumental roles in community literacy material development and reading instruction until leaving Mississippi in 1964. From 1964 into 1966, McCray worked with civil rights groups, associations, councils, and committees in New York, Louisiana, and Georgia. Her final move in 1966 was to Yellow Springs, OH. There, she worked as a public school educator for 29 years, followed by employment at Wilberforce University, teaching, mobilizing and influencing on campus and beyond right up until the end.
McCray passed away in 2010 after a battle with cancer. I see her as having been on one continuous Freedom Ride her whole life. The opportunity to have interviewed her would have been grand.
Want to know her favorite food, ice cream, time of year, and color? Check out her interview in The History Makers Archives.
Well, my friend, for now we're caught up. Two Freedom Ride events took place on July 21, 1961. Tomorrow would be the 60-year anniversary. Stardate 47634.44. What's on your agenda for the day?