American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Joan Harris Trumpauer Mulholland, 2 of 2
[Guest]: Well, when the Hinds county jail got too crowded they decide to move us all up to Parchman and we were put in, um paddy wagons to be driven up w-, we knew we were going to Parchman at that point, that was, uh, at least our understanding. But somewhere along the way, in the delta, the driver turned off down this s-, side road, dirt road, and for a ways and stop by some little ramshackle-y, it seemed, house and got out and went and got his buddies to come look at us and we really thought we were likely to be lynched right then and there, um, we didn't know what was happening that was probably the most frightening part of the trip and these guys peering in at us, and joking and pointing and things and eventually, the driver got back in and we went onto Parchman, we got there at night, um, I remember and we're [pause] taken in
into this, sort of, dark building and, at least it seemed dark then, and, uh, the wome-, this was all women at this point, yeah, I think they'd already taken the guys but we were, had to strip and, um, get examined, a vaginal exam, being the least pleasant and expected part of it ?unintelligible? had, um, matrons had on rubber gloves and would dip 'em into what smelled sort of like Lysol or some concoction like that and then they'd ?unintelligible? and back into the Lysol, or whatever it was, and onto the next one an-, and that, that was really intimidating, uh, they showed they could do anything they wanted to us and probably would. Then we were, kept our own blouse or shirt, whatever, and were given the black and w-, cor-, it was very course black and white striped, um, skirts to wear and taken down
into the cell block, which we understood had been death row but they had emptied out death row and doubled up those prisoners somewhere else and put us down this long corridor of, um, cells, which were really an improvement over Hinds county, [laughing] when truth be told. [Takes a deep breath] There were two people, um, to a cell, segregated by race, but black and white on the same cell block and metal bunks, um, toilet, and a sink, and we were given a towel and, um, toilet paper and the Bible, and that was it. Uh, there were mattresses, but if they wanted to stop our singing, or, um, control our behavior, they would take the mattresses and turn up the air conditioning and those, uh, steel bunks with a little, sort of half dollar sized holes all over them, were just real
uncomfortable at night, but there was the advantage that across from the cells were some very high windows, so you had a real sense of night and day and, uh, more presence of the outside world, um, existing. [Host]: Okay. [clears throat] I'm sorry, if you had, uh, what wha-, what is your, kind of, v-, your, your, your biggest memory of, of, of Parchman, if you think about your time there, you know, you have to distill it all into one memory, what's, what's your, what's the memory of Parchman that sticks in your mind? [Guest]: Well, my main memory of Parchman, our lawyers could come up on a certain day of the week and they would come, but after a while there was, the rabbi started coming up from Jackson, and
now there was just a very, uh, limited time that, that religious people could come, and the only one who was coming was the rabbi, who was already a marked man, the courage to drive up and they'd come down the cell block "anyone want to see the rabbi? come on now" and let us out. Well, I wasn't Jewish, but I figured a man of God was a man of God there's [laughing] no time to stand on denominations, we'd all go up to, sort of, the end of the cell block in a, a big room and join in a circle and the rabbi would start praying in Hebrew and then he'd s-, get, slip in a word or two of English, messages from our families, bits of world news, anything, just a few words, a phrase, and he'd go back to Hebrew prayers, he never missed a beat in the whole thing. Then he could meet with us individually for a moment and get messages, um, to send our parents. Well, one
time a couple, I think they were seminarians, but Catholic guys ?unintelligible? seminarians came at the same time and I decided, well, this is getting closer to the Protestants, so I went to see, um, the Catholic seminarians. My, some of the rabbi's crowd was really mad at me, they were, I had let down the rabbi, I was a traitor and, um, they were really upset, which shows how few things we had to focus on, but I, uh, that particular event, but just in general, the rabbi's faithfulness in coming up in spite of the danger to himself and his other responsibilities, is shows the human spirit to me. [Host]: Okay, let's cut. [Engineer]: Yes [Host]: ?unintelligible? What? Okay ?unintelligible? [Guest]: Here's a postcard I got from one of the local segregationists, of course our names were in the front page of the paper, so they would write to us and those were some of the letters they'd let get through to us
so this was in care of the city jail of Jackson, Mississippi [Reading] "Nothing you can do will integrate me, I do not choose to associate with black, African slaves who were dragged here like animals and have remained almost the same. All we owe them is a return trip to Africa. I'm white." Gotta give him some credit for the creativity. [Host]: ?unintelligible? Okay, let's, let's try, try one more time. Uh, we received hate mail, when, you know, when we were in jail ?unintelligible? Okay, go ahead [Guest]: We received some hate mail while we were in jail, we may have gotten some nicer letters, but those didn't reach us. Here's one addressed to me personally: [Reading] "Joan Trumpauer, in care of the city jail, got the name out of the newspaper Nothing you can do will integrate me. I do not choose to associate with black, African slaves who were dragged here like animals and have remained almost the same. All we owe them is a return trip to
Africa. Signed, I'm white." [Host]: Great, okay. Um, rolling [Guest]: We didn't get much mail in jail, but sometimes the hate mail got through. Here's one, they must have gotten my name from the local newspaper, front page every day. [Reading] "To Joan Trumpauer, in care of the city jail, Jackson, Mississippi. Nothing you can do will integrate me. I do not choose to associate with black, African slaves who were dragged here like animals and have remained almost the same. All we owe them is a return trip to Africa. signed, I'm white." Got to like his creativity. [Host]: 'kay, great, great. Um, let's cut. That would be in code. And make sure that, that, that, that at the end you tell me, you know, what the code part about, M-, is it McComb?
[Guest]: McComb [Host]: What the code part is, but um, just say, ya know, when you get these letters in code then you can read it [Guest]: Just because we didn't get them until after we got out of jail. [Host]: Don't tell me that [Guest]: Okay. [Host]: It doesn't matter we're just gonna, nobody heard that, alright? Okay, so tell me about the, uh, the letter. that you had received. [Guest]: Well, some of the, um, Freedom Riders who had already gotten out of jail on bail, would try to write to us, letters that were, sort of coded, they'd be pretending to be somebody that was a relative or somebody that we had met, uh, in route and then they would, uh, put in some news of what was going on, but all worded to, uh, get past the censors. Here's one: August 27, 1961 [Reading] "Dearest Joan, I'm going to wait for you in McComb, Mississippi until your release and then I'm taking I'm taking you back to Washington because I do not want you going to that colored school in Tougaloo. I wish there was some other possible way to solve this problem, but divorce is the only possible solution. Is your
love for the negro stronger than your love for me? Your loving husband. [Host]: Um, okay, um, cut post in there if you want to face the other, real close, um, and and n-, now you, you have to say, tell me that, you know, of course I wasn-, I didn't have a husband and what this letter is telling me is to ?unintelligible? [Guest]: Technically, I did have a husband [Host]: [laughter] I'm being truthful. Y-, you're, you're doing amazing and so, okay, let's, um, let's do it, we're gonna go with the letter again, we need to be wide, or are we gonna, or are you gonna go in and out? [Engineer]: Okay, uh, sure I will [Host]: Um, okay, um, tell me again, uh, about you have to start by telling me about the letter. You know, what, what, what was thi-, what is this? [Guest]: Sometimes Freedom Riders, who had already gone out on bail after their 39 days, would try to write back to us, um, in letters that they thought would get past the jail censors they would send messages
about where they were, world events, what was happening with the freedom riders they'd be pretending to be relatives or people we had just casually met en route to the freedom rides. Here is one of them that was sent to Parchman, it's dated August 27, 1961. "Dearest Joan, I am going to wait for you in McComb, Mississippi until your release and then I'm taking you back to Washington because I do not want you going to that colored school in Tougaloo. I wish there was some other possible way to solve this problem but divorce is the only possible solution is your love for the Negro stronger than your love for me? Your loving husband." Well of course this was not from my husband, this was from another freedom rider and McComb, Mississippi was a town in one of the bad parts of Mississippi where a lot of the freedom riders, especially the SNCC
guys, had gone to organize. [Host] And so its telling you-- [Guest] So it's telling me that things are happening in McComb, civil rights-wise. [Host] Great, okay, lets [unintelligible] [crew talking with host] Ummmm What did the freedom rides accomplish? [Guest] The freedom rides accomplished the enforcement of the Supreme Court ruling on the desegregation of public accommodations in interstate travel. It didn't happen overnight, even after the government decided to enforce it, it took a while for full compliance and I think it showed that the filling the jails was a realistic thought and
umm if uhhh other situations came up, we could do it, it could give the local police and establishment pause for consideration of "do we really want to risk this again?" [Host] Let me ask you one more question, one of the things that was said to us was that in the south and you know, don't quote me on these figures, usually you might have 10 percent that were Klan people, you might've have had 5 percent or less who were kind of liberal and you have this other 80 percent who just went along with the way things were, umm and I think one of the things that freedom rides wanted, did, and wanted to do, was to make people, you know make that 85 percent have to make a choice, make it in their face, make it so that you couldn't ignore it, you couldn't say that everything was okay, you couldn't say that black people were happy umm, umm do you think that that was part of what what
you were trying to do? [Guest] uhh In addition to the changes in the legal situation in the south and the federal government's participation, I think the freedom riders did a lot to umm consciousness raising, we might call it now, in the north, but most importantly in the south that a lot of people, or white people that is, just kept their mouth shut and went along with things they were afraid to speak out, and with good reason, but I think the freedom rides sort of freed a lot of these people to take a stand umm, and maybe they really didn't go along with our methods but they now felt they could speak up and say "hey, these people are legally right, these people have a point, things have not been fair." I've heard a lot, of a lot that I've heard of, a good many southern whites say that this was sort of a liberating moment for them
too, to take a stand for a better south and fair treatment. [Host] I wanted to ask you that, I wanted you just to talk about that, you said that umm that white southerners said that it was a liberating moment for them, if you could repeat that, and tell me why. [Guest] The freedom rides were a liberating moment for many white southerners and that they didn't have to remain-- they didn't feel they have to remain silent anymore, they felt things were serious enough, umm, they'd come to such a point, that they should start speaking up maybe not loudly and to everyone, because the wrath of the rest of the white southerners could come down upon them but in their own social groups, in their church groups, they could get organized and some of them actually helped support the freedom riders,
other's just, when someone would say something "they're all communist!" and they could say well, "maybe not, maybe there's something else," they could present a a different point of view from what other people were saying and the rest of the people just going along with. [Host] I think it made it hard to say that that that, you know black people were were were happy with the way things were you know, all these people getting arrested and getting ready, getting willing to spend their time in Parchman, getting beat and [unintelligible] so, uh its very hard to say everything was okay. [Guest] With the violence against the freedom riders, uh with the buses being burned, the filling of the jails, the putting a serious strain on Parchman, it became evident to everybody that things were not ok, that things-- people were not happy and yes there were northerners coming down being part of this
but an awful lot of the people who were involved were southerners, black and a few whites, and the violence against them, the intimidation, the arrests that made the news, this was clearly the act of white southerners and that was not okay, you don't burn buses, umm particularly buses that have-- well you don't burn buses, but the bus that was burned was not just freedom riders it included local people just riding the bus. [Host] Okay lets cut, lets get some room tone, we need about 20 seconds of silence [unintelligible crew chatter]
- American Experience
- Freedom Riders
- Contributing Organization
- WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
- AAPB ID
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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
- (c) 2011-2017 WGBH Educational Foundation
- Media type
- Moving Image
Release Agent: WGBH Educational Foundation
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: barcode357609_Mulholland_02_SALES_ASP_h264 Amex 1280x720.mp4 (unknown)
Identifier: cpb-aacip-15-fn10p0xt0f.mp4 (mediainfo)
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- Chicago: “American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Joan Harris Trumpauer Mulholland, 2 of 2,” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed March 22, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-fn10p0xt0f.
- MLA: “American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Joan Harris Trumpauer Mulholland, 2 of 2.” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 22, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-fn10p0xt0f>.
- APA: American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Joan Harris Trumpauer Mulholland, 2 of 2. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-fn10p0xt0f