thumbnail of American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso, 2 of 2
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(tone)(off camera speaker): I was asking you before we broke about parchment, and you say, oh, that's crazy, talk about parchment from. Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso: Well, first of all, you want to hear about the trip that we made from Hinds County jail to Parchment. This was, if we didn't keep our wits about us, this could have been an emotional catastrophe for everyone. In the middle of the night, in Hinds County, we were loaded onto a flatbed truck, and it had a tarp over the truck. And they, you know, there's a lot of moss on the trees, in certain parts of the South, Mississippi is one. And they said that we were going to go to Money, Mississippi. That's the place where Emitt Till was hung. And we were on this flatbed truck, and they kind of rode around and tried to make it seem a little eerie. But we kept singing, and we kept on thinking, and praying
and everything else. And when we got to Parchment, now this was in the middle of the night, who would transport people in the middle of the night from one prison to the other? That was a scare tactic. And then, when we got to Parchment, I could not believe it was just so many bugs, and the floor was dirty. And they had us take off our shoes to go into Parchment. And we were warned, we've been traveling for a long time, and we had been in this, in this county jail for a long time, and we really didn't have the facilities to keep ourselves as clean as we would like. And then, we complained so bitterly about the conditions, that they were deplorable. And we got processed in, fingerprinted and mugshots. We didn't, we weren't suitable to be taking mugshots, and all those mugshots are in a book. But we got in, and the food was really terrible. And then, if those
things were bad enough, we were 13 footsteps away from death row. And I just thought that was just horrible. And our charge was breaching the peace, and we were felons. I just don't set right, with right today, it doesn't. And sometimes the lights would dim, and you know, you didn't know if somebody was being executed, you didn't know. We never knew. Still don't know if they were, or if they weren't. But our time at Parchment was really something. But when you say, you can take a bad situation, and turn it into a moment of opportunity, today I'm even proud of the people that I shared that cell block with. Because there were people who were Greek historians, Roman historians. We had every discipline that you can imagine. So we exchanged stories about our disciplines, and we shared things.
We shared the activities that we had encountered in our home states and elsewhere. (off camera speaker): Let me interrupt, I want to get this story, but I want you to get, you know, it's kind of long from, you know, you go all the way from Hinds County to Parchment. So now you're in Parchment. Talk about the things that you did in Parchment to survive, to keep your sanity. What did you all do, you do in the cell and the cell block? Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso: Well, we shared our own stories with one another. We had Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. Every denomination you can think of. And we shared those. We even read from our Bibles, the New Testament, the Old Testament, somebody who was Catholic had their Catholic books and they read from those. And so the main focus for us was to stay together, not to degrade
or criticize or do anything but to embrace one another. And when we found a way to do that, that really set a nice tone for us. We sang a lot. And I remember the jailers asking us, do y'all have to sing those songs? And of course we did. And we kept on singing. And you know, when the stories were exchanged by all of these students, they asked us not to one time, because some of the, it's folk stories are kind of humorous, you know, we laughed and they said we were making too much noise. And it was just hilarious. And we weren't supposed to be having fun in there. You know, we were supposed to be really scared and shaking in our shoes because of being that close to death row. But we couldn't stop laughing. And you know, they came and took our mattresses away from us. They were thin anyway. And so we slept on steel beds and steel beds have big holes in them, bigger than a silver dollar.
And so we were so cold at night. It was really because they opened all the windows. And I guess turned on fans. I don't know that they had air conditioning then, but we were just freeze. And just as soon as the day came and the temperature started to rise, they would shut off everything. You'd just swelter and it took your strength away during the daytime to be in that sweltering inside a prison. And you could see the windows were up high. But if you could manage to get up high, you could see people, who were in prison, maybe these were men. And they were going out to work in the fields. And it was like a back in slavery, you know, people getting up early in the morning going out to work in fields. All that was supposed to do something to our psyche. But we were so grateful that it was a learning experience, that we were there for a purpose. And we weren't going to have
to be treated this way, or ever. (off camera speaker): I think you talked to Miranda and we said that you guys did plays. Did you do plays and stuff like that? Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso: Oh, in jail. Yeah. You're acting out different things in different ways. Yeah. (off camera speaker): Tell me that. Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso: Well, you know, some of the stories have, if you know the stories, I guess you can, you can remember, you can ad lib. But to actually, you know, do the, the verbiage for them was good. And everybody there may not have had the same experience. But it was wonderful mechanisms to survive. You can be creative wherever you are. And when the time arose, we were. (off camera speaker): And if you can tell me that again, actually just tell me that the one thing you did was kind of act out scenes and act out plays you do. Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso: Yes. That was done. (off camera speaker): Okay.
I'm not going to be here. So when you say, yes, I don't know what you're saying, yes, to you know. Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso: I'm saying that people in jail, you see, the cell block that I was in didn't give you much room to really do a lot of that because it was three people in a six by nine cell where I was. And I'm sure that everybody was not in a six by nine cell. Like at Hines County, we were in that big room. But there was one time when I was put in the room with people who weren't freedom writers. And it was like an infirmary. And I wasn't sick. But I was put there for some reason. And I'm saying that in places where they could, people gave speeches, acted out, different plays. They wore, they took their sheets and made togas. And especially the people who were, Greek majors had so much going for them in terms of Roman history. It can be so creative. And I found out that to be educational and fun.
Parchment. I mean, so that was supposed to be the worst place on earth. And some of our men tell us the experiences that they had that were even more, you know, engaging and terrific and, you know, creative than some of us might have been able to produce. But it was a time of creativity. (off camera speaker): Let's stop for a minute. Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso: So, there ain't no hiding place down here. Lots of Negro spirituals. (off camera speaker): You said it. Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso: That was the strangest thing. I had gone to Tennessee and a state university. Just got to TSU now. But the choir director there's named Lord Lust (?). And I, and the air you've taken in, so that you don't run out of breath to get the song out. (off camera speaker): You want to give us a chorus here?
You can. Come on.... Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso: You're not filming. (off camera speaker): We're rolling, yeah. Roll it. Okay. Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso: That's been 50 years ago. I mean, I have a voice ...... (off camera speaker): Just say what you did about it. Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso: Well, I remember what Mr. Lust said about expanding your diaphragm, you know, just taking in the air. (off camera speaker): Let me ask you a different thing. Okay. Okay. So, when you were apart from what, what, what, what, talk about singing and tell me what your favorite song was, and maybe give me a little bit of it. So, what, what did you like to sing in part? Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso: Oh, Over me. (off camera speaking): Again, my, my question isn't going to be this. You have to say, I like to sing, okay. Okay. Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso: Okay. I'm, I'm, I'm wanting to think. Oh, that, that was the favorite song that I liked. But there was a girl there from Nashville went to same school. She'd been given a four year scholarship to TSU.
And it when times got really hard. And you felt like you was way down yonder by yourself. When you couldn't hear nobody pray. Well, she's sang, "We Are Our Heavenly Father's Children". And she was never just talking about freedom riders. It was talking about people in the jail, the people in the community, everybody. And that really got me going. It lifted me. Love lifted me. When nothing else would do, love lifted me. And I felt that her song was given to her. So she could sing that at the right moment. And she did, every day when it was time to sing it. She did. She automatically burst into it. And I know she was moved because she didn't even look like the same person as she sang. It was joyous. And her name is Joy. Joy Reagan. (off camera speaker): How did the song go? Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso: Hers? (singing) We are our Heavenly Father's children.
That's how it starts. (off camera speaker): Did you want to sing a little bit of your favorite? Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso: Well, that was hers and it became mine as she sang it. But I liked (singing) all freedom, all freedom, all freedom over me. And before I'd be a slave, I'd be buried in my grave. And go home to my Lord and be free. Yeah, I liked that. (off camera speaker): Who would you sing with? Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso: Whenever we were moved to, sometimes the songs would be raised by different individuals. Maybe when they needed to. But it was a whole host of songs. (off camera speaker): How did the singing affect the guards?
What did they think about singing? Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso: They asked us to stop. (off camera speaker): start with 'the guards' Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso: Well, the guards were affected in a way that they would say. Especially this one, I can still see her face too. She had on her guard uniform and she would come to the cell and she would say "do y'all have to sing them songs?" Yes, we do. Yes, we do. We got to sing them. That's our, that's our, that's our sustenance, that's our meal. You know, we had to. (off camera speaker): Why do you think it bothered her? It was the words and it was the melody, and it was, it made you think. If you heard that, and you know the people who were singing it, you got to think about it. I've never heard anybody sing a Negro spiritual that wasn't just hushed and listening, you know, concentrated on.
It's a wonderful thing to have a Negro spiritual. (off camera speaker): What were the guards like? You were telling Lorenz that they were big and strong? Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso: Oh, they were very polite, and nice and all. And I remember, on the bus how they were. The policemen in Mississippi seemed so big to me. I don't know what they fed them. They were really big. And you know how you, you have these short sleeve shirts and you turn them up to get an extra cuff. I'm like, what are they feedin' you guys. What, how did you get that big? I'd never seen a white guy that big. I'd seen athletes be pretty big, but oh, these were the biggest guys. And I always thought, well, that's part of the intimidation tactic. But the guards, we didn't see much of, except the ones walking up and down the cell block from time to time, but they weren't very polite. (off camera speaker): You remember when you got out of Parchment?
Yeah, I got out of Parchment. I remember getting out. And, I got my belongings. And, a lot of people from all over the country, different colleges, different friends that we'd met, and friends that were friends of people who knew we were in jail, cards from different people. We got all of our things, and we were received with welcome arms by our attorney. His name was Jack Young. He was a civil rights attorney in Jackson. And he and his wife welcomed us to their house. And then we were taken to various places to eat. And people were very kind to us, and grateful for the work that we'd been doing. And then we went to places where we needed to go. Some went on to work in Mississippi, voter registration. Some went at home. Some tried to go back to school.
Everybody had a place that they needed to go. (off camera speaker): Look we are almost done, everybody? Yeah, we're almost done. You're good? Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso: I'm good. We're doing okay? (off camera speaker): Yeah, you're great. Great, great. I just have a couple more questions to ask you. Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso: Okay. (off camera speaker): But the main one is, what do you think that the freedom rides accomplished? Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso: A number of things. First of all, the freedom rides accomplished a breakdown in segregated travel throughout the country. On all modes of transportation, planes, airplanes, you know, we had problems on airplane, buses, trains, any place. For opening of facilities as you travel by car, there was no, nobody born after the 60s can say that they had to stop on the side of the road to go to the bathroom. Okay. It opened up jobs.
We had, I had never seen a black bus driver before I was 21 or 22. We had Greyhound and Trailways, hire bus drivers. I even saw a black conductor on a train, after that. So there were just so many avenues that were opened. It made the economy better when, you know, you have people spending now, and can use facilities. And then you had people training. It made jobs better. And it opened up jobs that worked, blue collar jobs, or menial jobs, people had an opportunity to go to all kinds of job facilities and be trained. And then people graduating had an opportunity. As a matter of fact, being at Tennessee State, the urban league was so proud of the accomplishments that had been made. We had a reunion of all the Tennessee State students in the early sixty's
to see just how many people had gotten better opportunities because of our activities. (off camera speaker): So the freedom ride, but what else did the freedom rides.... These are very concrete job, things. What did it do in terms of changing the South, in terms of changing spirit, in terms of changing people's attitude, changing people's, whatever. Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso: Well, I think in some cases, there was still a lot to be opened up. There was. And I'm certain of that, because there's a story in a southern patriot that talked about a lady who came to get on a bus to go someplace. After the freedom rides had started to happen, but you know the freedom rides lasted from May 1961. It went on through the end of that year. And it did you know that the sentences became longer and the fines became higher.
And so we had to deal with all of that. But all of that was reversed when it was determined that we really had not reached any peace, and all of that was alleviated. Not only that, did you know that I was along with several other students who were put out of school. So we had to get all of our records had to be documented to show exactly what happened to us. Letters were written to the governor and to the Board of Regents in that state. They did absolutely nothing. It took them forty seven years to beg our pardons and then, you know, get rid of all of that. But we had to carry on our records that we were felons and charged with breeching peace. You know that that kept you from sometimes going where you needed to go.
But what it did do was give us an opportunity to go use all the skills that we had learned. (off camera speaker): Okay, let's get some room tone there. Everyone hold still, this is room tone. Do you have a look okay?
Series
American Experience
Episode
Freedom Riders
Raw Footage
Interview with Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso, 2 of 2
Contributing Organization
WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
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Description
Episode Description
Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso was a student at Tennessee State University on the Nashville, Tennessee, via Montgomery, Alabama, to Jackson, Mississippi (Trailways) ride, May 28, 1961
Topics
History
Race and Ethnicity
Subjects
American history, African Americans, civil rights, racism, segregation, activism, students
Rights
(c) 2011-2017 WGBH Educational Foundation
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Moving Image
Duration
00:20:50
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Duration: 0:20:45

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Duration: 00:20:50
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Citations
Chicago: “American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso, 2 of 2,” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 21, 2024, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-gt5fb4xm7n.
MLA: “American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso, 2 of 2.” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 21, 2024. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-gt5fb4xm7n>.
APA: American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Pauline Edythe Knight-Ofuso, 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-gt5fb4xm7n