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