Freedom Rider talks civil rights activism with students
Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, 75, addressed hundreds of 10th- and 11th-graders Tuesday at the East Professional Center. Donning a shirt emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter” and a raised fist emblem, Mulholland discussed her work and gave students advice on fighting racism and injustice in their own communities.
Mulholland gained national recognition as a white Southern woman who defied her segregationist upbringing and participated in more than three dozen sit-ins and demonstrations by the age of 19. She was a Freedom Rider and participated in a historic sit-in at a Woolworth lunch counter in Jackson, Miss.
Tuesday, she joined the students to watch “An Ordinary Hero: The True Story of Joan Trumpauer Mulholland,” an award-winning documentary that chronicles her activism. The film told how Mulholland was disowned by her family, attacked, shot at, hunted down by the Ku Klux Klan for execution and put on death row in Mississippi’s notorious Parchman Penitentiary with other Freedom Riders. She also crossed paths with some of the biggest names in the movement, including King, Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, Diane Nash and John Lewis.
Mulholland told students after the film that while the work was not easy, she was motivated by a vision of an equitable society in the South.
After the event, Mulholland had a special moment with several women in the audience who were members of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. Mulholland was the first white woman to join that sorority when she attended Tougaloo College, a school she helped integrate by becoming the first white student. The other women introduced themselves and posed for a photo with Mulholland, flashing the Delta Sigma Theta hand sign.