Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice

By Raymond Arsenault | Go to book overview

9
Ain't Gonna Let No Jail House Turn Me 'Round

Ain't gonna let no jail house, Lordy, turn me 'round,
I'm gonna keep on a-walkin', Lord, keep on a-talkin', Lord,
Marching up to freedom land.

—1960s freedom song1

DIVERSITY WAS THE HALLMARK OF THE FREEDOM RIDES. No previous movement campaign—not even the sit-ins of 1960—had attracted such a variety of participants. Transcending organizational, regional, and racial boundaries, Freedom Riders became emblematic symbols of a movement that extolled the virtues of political inclusion and social equality. While many Freedom Riders were Southern black college students in their late teens or early twenties, others were white, Northern, or middle-aged. While many were deeply religious, others were largely or completely secular. Men were in the majority, but more than a quarter of the Riders were women. This diversity, so fitting for an idealistic cause, was one of the strengths of the Freedom Rider campaign, one of the reasons why so many men and women were willing to join the Rides even after it became clear that they were headed for Parchman. Nevertheless, in the social and political context of Cold War America, diversity was a decidedly mixed blessing. In 1961 the tensions and suspicions that had given rise to McCarthyism, the Red Scare, and consensus ideology were still very much alive in the American mainstream. In many communities, especially in the South, intolerance of difference and unorthodox behavior was a reflexive reality, and anyone who strayed from the common channels of national or regional life was subject to intense criticism and even ostracism. Activists of any kind engendered suspicion, but activists such as the Freedom Riders, many of whom were unconventional even by civil rights movement standards, inevitably provoked the public's deepest fears. Even in

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Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Also by Raymond Arsenault ii
  • Pivotal Moments in American History iii
  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Editors' Note xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1: You Don't Have to Ride Jim Crow 11
  • 2: Beside the Weary Road 56
  • 3: Hallelujah! I'M A-Travelin' 93
  • 4: Alabama Bound 140
  • 5: Get on Board, Little Children 177
  • 6: If You Miss Me from the Back of the Bus 209
  • 7: Freedom's Coming and It Won't Be Long 259
  • 8: Make Me a Captive, Lord 304
  • 9: Ain't Gonna Let No Jail House Turn Me 'Round 343
  • 10: Woke Up This Morning with My Mind on Freedom 382
  • 11: Oh, Freedom 424
  • Epilogue: Glory Bound 477
  • Acknowledgments 527
  • Appendix: Roster of Freedom Riders 533
  • Notes 588
  • Bibliography 653
  • Index 680
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