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but the pain thirty years ago [Interviewer]: So, I want to talk a little bit about that right there. You knew Hank Thomas a little bit and what were you thinking when when you saw Hank's picture in the bus burning? [Joan]: We’d been ?long? to make fun of him and tease him. And this– Now things have gotten serious, and we can’t let it stop. [Interviewer]: You can give me a little more than that in general on your answers - you can expound on that. I didn't know that you
teased him, so you gotta tell me that you know, "we had been teasing him about it," but now, I'm gonna ask you another question. When - After the burning bus, and after the beatings in Birmingham, the Freedom Rides were called off. What did you think when you heard that? [Joan]: No way. The Freedom Rides have got to keep going and– Because I was working and just catching the news here and there. It’s not like I was on campus. But I think the student group which was maybe half students, half others, felt that things had to continue, and we saw the Nashville kids coming in, and what happened to them. So, three of our group left. And, when the (s) church was being besieged down in Montgomery, Paul Dietrich, one of the three, called me from the basement on his very short, one-call-per-person phone - you know, phone call. And he didn’t call the campus because phones were just, you know, one per hall,
and the time might be up before he got to anybody. So he knew the phone was near - where it was in my place, and I would get it in the middle of the night. And he just said, (s) “We’re trapped in the church. Send more people.” So, we started recruiting folks to keep going, and thought we had just about everyone we were going to get from DC had gone, and so my group was one of the last from DC. In the end, DC sent more from the student group than any group in the country, southern students, except for Nashville, which think we can be proud of, but -- [Host]: Tell me that, tell me a little bit more about that so, um, I had heard this story, so, were you in bed, and the phone rang, and what happened? I was living in sort of an efficiency apartment and um, yeah, it was the middle of the night. I was sleeping, the phone rang and got it and it was just a very very quick call, maybe I think they had like a minute they could talk per
call and people were lined up in the church waiting their turn and it was just that "Joan, this is Paul, and we're trapped in the church, may be a detail or two about that and send more people. Got to go." Was there fear in his voice? Well, this was the middle of the night, so I was sort of waking up hearing it, but I don't think it was so much fear as determination Um, I think a lot of us, we were past fear. If we're going to die we are going to die or something but just we can't stop and the philosophy of non-violence some of us - we all knew the philosophy whether we adhered to it strictly or just saw nonviolence as a tactic, but if one person falls, others take their place and so there was no question about them hanging back and
it was the end of the semester for those who are in school and what are you gonna do for the summer - well why not? and for me, I had applied to Tugallook College in Jackson anyway so I may as well go now rather than late August. Let the state of Mississippi support me for the summer. And you ended in jail? In jail and parchment as it turned out You as a, a white senator, how did you, why do you think you're so involved in what became known as the movement? Well I have had it with carpet beggars and felt that southerners should deal with their problems and make the south a better place for everybody and I was a good student and US government and you have that Declaration of Independence - We hold these truths to be self evident and on and then also I was active in my
church and it seem like the teachings of loving your neighbor and doing and to others as you would have them do to you we're all equal before God and this type of thing was just contradicted by what we were doing. Then with the Brown versus Board of Education, Virginia launched into massive resistance of the threat of school integration and when I was in high school, I had classmates that were talking all white who were a year behind because their schools in Virginia had been closed and they had missed out a year and so we basically gave a lot of thought to this and many of my classmates felt that we don't care who is in the room with us - just let us graduate and get our diploma, or there's no college, no good job. Graduating from high school was more important than who the classmates were. So in general
you were talking about changing...let me ask you in a different way... So far, how do you think racism in the south and segregation in the south affected you as a white southerner. I mean, make me understand that because in some ways you know, it would seem on the surface, right, that it's all good - you know that's how people portray it. Well, it was just sort of as natural as breathing air - that was what I grew up with. I didn't know anything else. As a kid it affected me when the bus crossed from DC to Virginia and you had to give up those good bouncy seats in the back but when blacks in the front had to move to the back but beyond that it didn't really affect me except as you say in all good that there was more for me, but I realized as time
went on that if you're supporting two sets of parks, two sets of schools two sets of this, that and the other, none of them are going to be that good and the financial cost of all that money was put into one set of schools, you'd have better schools period and certainly the state parks in south became some of the best in the nation once they unified. Yeah, but you know, I mean I can't... I could see that by the time I was in high school that it'd be better. But you know, so it was kind of an economic thing, that you'd have better parks Better schools mainly. Better schools and so you're going to put.. It seems that other people are, you know, willing to go to extreme measures to enforce an segregation but you are willing to, in some ways, join these organizations, protests, sit in and join the freedom rides. Why? I think this goes back to, um
religion - as a Christian that I thought that by the time I was in junior high, high school, I thought that the life we were leading that way was a contradiction of our religion, our beliefs that we said on Sunday but forgot about the rest of the week and maybe I was a little strong willed and bull-headed. And of course, once you did something, you were sort of branded and there was no turning back at least if you wanted to stay in the South. You said that there were, um, that you kind of said something that you breathed it. How were you taught the rules of segregation growing up. Well you saw what was that black went here, whites went there, that um, you didn't look out the car windows at those people when you're driving through their
neighborhood. Avoid eye contact, expect them to step to the outside of the sidewalk. Obviously you could see two sets of schools, two sets of churches, two sets of everything that people didn't go places together. You had the visual and then if you sort of... I remember once, we stopped at a red light in black neighborhood in Arlington and I was looking at the kids in the car next to us who were doing something entertaining and my mother reprimanded me for that and locked the car doors. That sends a message. I asked, we had a housekeeper, I ask what her name was. Well, it was Alice. Well, what's her last name? And it was made clear that that was a ridiculous question. There was no
need to think about a last name. I never did know her last name though she worked for us for years. Things like that. You just sort of brought up short whenever you sort of stray from the orthodoxy. Um, why, why did you and others feel it was necessary to take up the freedom rides when, uh , let me ask How did you feel when you heard that the freedom rides, where the core freedom rides were gonna be cancelled after Anniston and Birmingham? That was the adults talking. The students had a different thought and it was just 'they can stop them but we won't' and the students were going to keep on - keep on keeping on. Let me cut for a second. OK - so once again: How did you feel when you heard that they were going to cancel the Freedom Rides?
The whole idea of canceling the freedom rides just seemed ridiculous that that was admitting that the segregationists had won as it were - that we didn't have the right side with us and just no way were we going to cancel them. Just the students could keep on - the adults could back off and the students would take over. You just don't stop. What do you think made it so - you know, that I always wondered if why The students have this kind of, you know, you know, whatever it is bravado, courage, audacity, Why would students be like they are? Why would they keep on going? With students I think that's part of being a student for one thing - that you are you're on the cutting edge. You're rebellious against the things you see wrong in society, you don't
see working through the long haul. The NAACP method for instance. The way my father would have done it, just making little little chips of the system and working to change the whole structures. Students would go for the specific problem of the moment and students didn't have the commitments and the bills to pay, the mortgages, the job and all that stuff that they were thinking long range yet. They were thinking semester to semester. And it was the summer anyway. Yes it was the summer and um what are you gonna this summer? Well you can go do some, you know, menial low paying job or you can go on the freedom rides, not a hard choice. Um, talk to me about your personal freedom ride, you know the train and that...
trip. My freedom it was one of the first ones to not take the bus route. We flew down to New Orleans, couple days of orientation there, couple more people joined us. Were basically I think, seven of us, 8 of us at this time, Washington DC group and then we took the train, Illinois Central from New Orleans, only we stopped in Jackson; we didn't go further. The train ride itself to me was pretty calm, it was not knowing what exactly was going to happen at the end that could make you nervous. There were crowds at all the stations along the way. You wouldn't have wanted to get off into those. Sort of rough looking guys - see what would happen. On the train itself though, a few college students were sort of of making a few remarks but that ended pretty fast. College
guys being college guys and there was a reporter who was not working at that moment but said kind things to us and expressed an interest. Southern reporter. There was a woman with a couple of her children who very quietly said she really supported us and wished us well. So we rode with, well, Stokely Carmichael was part of the group and he was a little audacious and being on that train didn't calm him down. So he could make you a little nervous, what was gonna happen because of whatever he might for provoke. We got some food. That went ok. Porters were helpful and friendly and actually when we got off the train, the black passengers on the train were sort of wishing us well and giving us high five and what have you and
got off and walked into the station into the white waiting room in the mixed group and met up with Captain Ray and by then it was just absolutely scripted, that, um y'all gonna move on and move out or you're under arrest and we didn't go anywhere You can't sit here and we kept sitting; you're under arrest and filed out to the paddy wagon and of to jail. The one thing that happened when we got out of the paddy wagon in that I've always remembered, I was dressed a sort of like a very southern lady, a little bit lacy and frilly, and an artificial flower and pinned on me and what have you, and as I went to step down from the paddy wagon the police officer reached out to take my arm. We don't want anything to happen to you chillin'. And then it was like he suddenly realized that I was the enemy and jerked
his hand back and he didn't know what to do with himself! But that has really stuck with me. Let's cut. Yes. The white south sort of had a united front and you if you disagreed, you really weren't supposed to speak up; you kept that to yourself and when i got involved with the sit ins, I was, it was worse perhaps because I was the southerner, because I should, as I was told, you should know better! And I was told I was a traitor, whether it was on the picket line, or at a sit in, it was "You're a traitor to your race." and "You're worse than they are because you can't expect the 'N' word to know better. They're just being led by the communists, but you know better."
You're worse. Let me ask you... kind of the same question in a different way... You talked about the sit ins and the picket lines and unfortunately we're focused right in on the Freedom Rides. And it was the same thing. We can talk about it in that way then, because one of the things that it seems that that that was interesting and surprising in some ways to me was that the violence and the hate still seemed to be more directed in some ways at white Freedom Riders. You know they were singled out for beatings and so talk about that - why, why, what was it that that just enraged the white south about what the white Freedom Riders the white south saw the southern whites
and the freedom riders as traitors that they had gone over to the enemy that was being led by the communists and that northern whites were seen as a continuation of the occupying forces of the civil war. The black freedom riders weren't thought well of but they were so ignorant and being misled by the communists and what could you expect of them anyway and they'd get straightened up by being in jail but us whites whether northerner or southern, definitely knew better and were buying into the United Nations and the communist Jewish program to annihilate white southern life. I'm gonna ask you again to think about being a traitor, and breaking ranks, but if you can refer instead of referring to the sit ins
But you see, the Freedom Riders came out of the sit in movement, the ones that kept it going... That little time. Can you do that? Is that a mistake or not? You like those words traitor and breaking rank. I like how you were labeled a traitor... People said you broke ranks. Why? And what did they mean? I was considered, because I was a freedom rider and white and southern as being a real traitor to the white race, white race being the southern white race. I had broken ranks with the solid south. I got hate mail
calling me a traitor, armed groups might be brought by the cells just to sort of show and tell and just look at us as the local attraction and people would, would sometimes tell us that we were just the scum of the earth and I'm just not getting there. By the time I joined the freedom rides and even though was just a couple weeks later from the original ones everything was pretty much scripted and routine in that you knew what was going to happen, what to expect. The mayor, or chief of police of Jackson had made a deal with Bobby Kennedy that the freedom riders would not be beset, but they would be arrested
and so you just sort of went straight from point a to point b with not too much in between and you knew what to expect. What was your opinion? what was a kind of opinion of the Freedom Riders and the people that were involved that change of the Kennedy's at that point it, you know the Kennedy's have come down through history and now as these kind of great men and great civil rights fighters but in 1960, 1961, as they were starting out, what people think and know and want? At that point and say the freedom rides, I think people were pretty angry with the Kennedy's. The supreme court had ruled and the Kennedy's we knew were making deals with the local southern politicos on how to deal with us this. They didn't want a big violent scene spread all
over the world press. They wanted us to just disappear and we wanted the Kennedys to enforce the law and we knew that the only real way the law was gonna get enforced was for the Kennedy's to take action so we looked to them for justice but at the same time we knew that they were part of the problem, a big part right then. Um and I guess that deal-making that they did kept us from being killed and enabled us to take on a campaign of fill the jails which we certainly did. So you do down know know pretty much you're going to be arrested in Jackson, you know you're going to be going into the Mississippi penal system which had, you know, there's lots of songs written about the penal system, parts of the farm and the penal system, What did you know about the Mississippi penal system? I personally didn't know very
much about the Mississippi penal system. I knew that Mississippi was the heart of darkness and the roughest place in the south but parch-man I really didn't know about, and any, you know, barely the name but I learned, I learned. We started out in the city jail and them moved to the Hinds County jail which was worse than a lot of jails in the south, city jails. It was filthy, it was crowded, particularly in the white women's cell. It got down to seventeen women in a cell for four, which didn't leave much room to stretch out. In fact one freedom rider, it rotated who it was each night, had to curl up in the dripping shower stall to sleep, so that was pretty grubby. And the food, I at least had advantage of being familiar with southern food,
I wasn't put off with grits, even though they didn't have any salt in them and maybe no butter floating and cornbread and greens and field peas, I knew about those which gave me a definite advantage over a lot of the northern whites. And, but, the sheer crowding I think was what was the worse factor for me. Being in the city you could at least, if things got really awful, you could scream, and shout and there were windows to the outside downtown Jackson. In fact, at night the women would sing and the guys would sing and then were on a different floor in the jail, but you could hear each other back and forth. This was, you felt a little bit in touch. A newspaper might get It's given to you by somebody. The lawyers got by more often and so this was tolerable, crowded, dirty but
psychologically it wasn't near as bad as Parch-men. Parchmen kept being sort of a rumor and, as the rumors kept growing, I learned a lot more about Parchmen and it was in about the worst part of the worst state in the United States and that's where we were going but I found the physical plant of vast improvement over on Heinz County and the food was better. It was cleaner for one thing, but the psychological terror of being there with absolutely no link to the outside world and completely at their mercy of course, you were at the mercy of jailers was before but after going through vaginal exams and you're, when you arrived and being given your striped uniforms and locked in what had been
had been until you came, death row. They emptied out death row to make room for us. I want you to tell me about kind of your arrival... at Parchment as a separate thing. Do you know what I mean? about, you know, the vaginal exam I want you to tell me about getting the striped uniform... So when we arrived at Parchmen and what happened and how you were feeling... only changed kids picked me as part of that
American Experience
Freedom Riders
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Interview with Joan Harris Trumpauer Mulholland, 1 of 2
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Episode Description
Joan Harris Trumpauer Mulholland was the Secretary for Rep. Claire Engle of California when she went on the New Orleans, Louisiana to Jackson, Mississippi (Illinois Central RR) ride. June 8, 1961
Race and Ethnicity
American history, African Americans, civil rights, racism, segregation, activism, students
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Chicago: “American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Joan Harris Trumpauer Mulholland, 1 of 2,” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed March 1, 2024,
MLA: “American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Joan Harris Trumpauer Mulholland, 1 of 2.” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 1, 2024. <>.
APA: American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Joan Harris Trumpauer Mulholland, 1 of 2. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from