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Freedom Rider Diary

Smuggled Notes from Parchman Prison

Carol Ruth Silver

Publication Year: 2014

Arrested as a Freedom Rider in June of 1961, Carol Ruth Silver, a twenty-two-year-old recent college graduate originally from Massachusetts, spent the next forty days in Mississippi jail cells, including the Maximum Security Unit at the infamous Parchman Prison Farm. She chronicled the events and her experiences on hidden scraps of paper which amazingly she was able to smuggle out. These raw written scraps she fashioned into a manuscript, which has waited, unread for more than fifty years. Freedom Rider Diary is that account.

Freedom Riders were civil rights activists who rode interstate buses into the segregated southern United States in 1961 to test the U.S. Supreme Court rulings outlawing segregation in interstate bus and terminal facilities. Brutality and arrests inflicted on the Riders called national attention to the disregard for federal law and the local violence used to enforce segregation. Police arrested Riders for trespassing, unlawful assembly, and violating state and local Jim Crow laws, along with other alleged offenses, but they often allowed white mobs to attack the Riders without arrest or intervention.

Though a number of books recount the Freedom Rides as part of the larger civil rights story, this book offers a heretofore unavailable detailed diary from a woman Freedom Rider along with an introduction by historian Raymond Arsenault, author of the definitive history of the Freedom Rides. In a personal essay detailing her life before and after the Freedom Rides, Silver explores what led her to join the movement and explains how, galvanized by her actions and those of her compatriots in 1961, she spent her life and career fighting for civil rights. Framing essays and personal and historical photographs make the diary an ideal book for the general public, scholars, and students of the movement that changed America.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xi

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Raymond Arsenault

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pp. xiii-xix

In 1961, Carol Ruth Silver became a Freedom Rider. A twenty-two-yearold secretary working at the United Nations headquarters in New York, she was one of the 436 seemingly “ordinary” individuals who participated in an extraordinary civil rights campaign that transformed the character of American democracy. Breaking...

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Chapter 1. New York

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pp. 3-18

And why not me? I have no excuse for not going—I am not in school, my job is not permanent, financially I can afford to spend two months or so not working. I can even afford a bus ticket to Jackson, Mississippi, since all year I have been planning to take a bus trip this summer. The idea of my going first occurred to me a couple of nights ago...

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Chapter 2. Traveling South

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pp. 19-22

To the northerner, to me, the honeysuckle was the first thing apparent in Virginia, an odor amazingly sweet and clear and fresh, and all-pervasive. The second thing I noticed was segregation, equally common and clear, but certainly not sweet. The nominally integrated bus depot at Richmond, Virginia...

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Chapter 3. The Crime

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pp. 23-25

The ride through Tennessee and Mississippi was relatively uneventful. Two police cars fell in behind the bus at the Mississippi border and, sometimes joined by more, followed us all the way to Jackson. At a whistle stop in Tennessee one of the Yale divinity students, Ed Kale, got out and began...

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Chapter 4. Justice

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pp. 26-31

The Jackson city jail cell in which I found myself was the size of a large living room, divided down the middle by a set of bars in which there was an open sliding door. In the back section were four iron cots with thin, cleanlooking mattresses. The front section contained a shower partially hidden by a transparent glass brick dividing wall...

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Chapter 5. Hinds County Jail

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pp. 32-40

The county jail cell was about half the size of the city jail cell and much less modern. Instead of cream-colored tile, the walls were painted, creamcolor cement, with the cement floor painted battleship gray and worn bare in spots. Two barred windows looked out on the upper edge of a cement...

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Chapter 6. The Boys Go to Parchman

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pp. 41-54

Big excitement all day (and night)—the boys to the penitentiary? or not?! They did not go this morning, and Helene offered to make book that they would not go at all. Things were quiet all day, except for a variation on our visitors from Boys’ State. This time it was Girls’ State, a dozen or so girls in starched...

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Chapter 7. Maximum Security Unit

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pp. 55-69

The night ride in the paddy wagon between Jackson and Parchman took about four hours, and was more frightening than any previous part of this whole jail experience. Twenty-three girls, about half and half white and Negro together, were crowded into one old...

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Chapter 8. Parchman Continued

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pp. 70-85

Del was sick again today, this time feeling really bad. We yelled for the doctor and got the jailers, who repeated their comments of the first time. As one of them was walking out he remarked in a loud voice, “Y’all know, we’ve got a graveyard at this prison, too.” We were infuriated, and when Del...

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Chapter 9. OUT!

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pp. 86-93

“July 15, 1961—Saturday—want out, out, out!!! Washed floors.” That was the last entry in my prison diary notes, for at 2:30 p.m. that day we were in a truck bouncing toward Jackson. Terry and I, Shirley Thompson, Joan Trumpauer, Gwen Greene, and three boys, one white and two Negro, were all in the truck, integrated...

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Chapter 10. And OFF

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pp. 94-101

At 4:30 p.m., I left New Orleans for Houston, Laredo, and Mexico City. Shirley, Alice, Jean, and Jerome Smith came down to see me off. All of us walked into the Greyhound bus station wearing buttons which said “Freedom Ride CORE.” I already had my ticket, but when I asked for a timetable...

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Chapter 11. And Back

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pp. 102-112

Off to Jackson, once again! Even though we have known for almost a week that we would probably, and then certainly, have to go back to Jackson, still no one seems to have any real idea about what will happen when we get there. Even on such a simple thing as housing, it seems to be a group deduction rather than any concrete information...

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Chapter 12. Events

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pp. 113-122

The ride into Jackson was uneventful. It was dark and few people noticed our being sirened through all of the traffic lights by our escort of police cars. The Masonic Temple is located in the middle of downtown Jackson, on Lynch Street. When we entered, it was almost full, a sea of Negro faces (although I became aware...

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Chapter 13. “Comes Now the Defendant . . .”

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pp. 123-136

I called Tom Gaither, the CORE field secretary in Jackson, from a pay phone, as soon as I got off the plane and into the Jackson airport at 1:00 p.m. I knew full well that my plane was late and that I had missed my trial date at 9:00 a.m. that morning. (It was this same Tom Gaither, I was told, who had first proposed...

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Cherie A. Gaines

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pp. 137-144

I was both flattered and honored when Carol Ruth Silver asked me to prepare an afterword for the diary of her experiences as an arrested, prosecuted, and then imprisoned Freedom Rider. I felt honored because Carol Ruth is an extraordinary person who has “kept the faith” and sought to correct injustices...

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Claude Albert Liggins, Freedom Rider

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pp. 145-152

Claude Albert Liggins was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, to parents Theo Liggins and Earlie Vee Thomas, and he grew up there. Claude remembers that his mother had very strong feelings about the racial injustices experienced by black people in Lake Charles. Also, his third-grade schoolteacher...

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Autobiographical Notes

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pp. 153-176

The question I am most commonly asked is: Why? Why did you go on the Freedom Rides? This question asks who I was, and how I had become who I was, in May 1961, when I made the decision to join the Freedom Rides. The answer goes all the way back to my earliest memory—corresponding with the United States Department...

Chapter Notes

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pp. 177-178

Suggested Additional Readings and Documentary Films

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pp. 179-180


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pp. 181-188

Image Plates

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E-ISBN-13: 9781617038877
E-ISBN-10: 162103979X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781621039792

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Civil rights movements -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Civil rights workers -- Southern States -- Diaries.
  • African American civil rights workers -- Southern States.
  • African Americans -- Civil rights -- Southern States -- Diaries.
  • Freedom Rides, 1961 -- Diaries.
  • Women civil rights workers -- United States -- Diaries.
  • Silver, Carol Ruth -- Diaries.
  • Southern States -- Race relations.
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