Freedom Rider Speaks at Hinckley on Importance of Social Activism

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Freedom Rider Speaks at Hinckley on Importance of Social Activism

(Photo by Cole Tan)

(Photo by Cole Tan)

(Photo by Cole Tan)

(Photo by Cole Tan)

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(Photo by Cole Tan)

(Photo by Cole Tan)

Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, a civil rights activist, Freedom Rider and lunch counter sit-ins participant, spoke at the Hinckley forum on Tuesday.

Raised in Virginia, Mulholland was brought up in a strictly Christian home and had ancestors who were slave owners. Her parents had black housekeepers and Mulholland recalled her mom and dad saying, “Loved having the help, but hated blacks.” However, Mulholland did not want to conform to her predecessors’ ways.

In 1961, while studying at Duke University, 19-year-old Mullholland made the decision to join the Freedom Riders.

“The only thing worse than being black in the 1960s was being a black-lover, which I was,” Mulholland said in front of a crowd of 30 U students in the Hinckley Caucus room. “Times were so different compared with now. A black man and a white woman couldn’t be seen together without being harassed or even approached by authorities. All we wanted was for everyone to be free to live their lives in peace.”

Tim Chambless, a political science professor at the U, said he connected strongly with Mulholland’s story.

“My great-grandparents were slave owners in Georgia,” Chambless said. “The courage to rise above that and fight for something greater is extraordinary.”

Mulholland’s close friend and fellow activist during the freedom rides was Medgar Evers. In 1963, Evers pulled into his driveway, holding a stack of t-shirts that read “Jim Crow Must Go,” when he was shot in the back and killed. Mulholland said tensions peaked after Evers’ assassination.

“When I go to Medgar’s grave, I go to give thanks,” Mulholland said. “My reaction to Barack Obama’s election was immediately to go to Medgar’s grave and let him know. He would have been so proud.”

Mulholland also stressed the importance of the right to vote.

“People have died so you can vote,” Mulholland said. “Don’t let their deaths be in vain.”

Mulholland encouraged students to take action on social issues and realize the power they have to make a difference.

“Have you ever thrown a stone into water and watched the ripples? The smallest ripple is closest. That represents the first thing you do to make a difference,” Mulholland said. “Your generation needs to pick your issues and work on making your ripple effect as great as possible.”

Mulholland’s story was filmed and will appear in the documentary called “An Ordinary Hero: The True Story of Joan Trumpauer Mulholland.”

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@mary_royal