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Jewish Women in Civil Rights - Carol Ruth Silver

Carol Ruth Silver
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Carol Ruth Silver in Birmingham, Alabama, May 2000. Courtesy of Carol Ruth Silver.


Carol Ruth Silver was born in Boston, Massachusetts on October 1, 1938, the eldest of three daughters. Carol received her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Chicago. After she received her undergraduate degree in 1960, she went to New York to work as a clerk at the United Nations. She attended some boycotts organized by Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and she responded immediately when CORE put out a call for Freedom Riders. The Freedom Riders were met with hostility in the Deep South and were ultimately jailed for their actions. Carol Silver was among the first white women to be jailed in the Freedom Rides. After her arrest on June 7, 1961, she spent forty days in jail in Mississippi, first in the Hinds County Jail and then in Parchman Prison.

Later, during her time in law school, she spent summers working as a law clerk in Alaska and Uganda. When she graduated law school she had a one-year internship sponsored by Law Students Committee for Civil Rights. She worked in North Carolina for Floyd McKissick, who later became the head of CORE. She then worked in a variety of progressive movements, including the Farmworkers' Movement. Her eleven-year career in San Francisco politics included working with Harvey Milk on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. She has been out of politics since 1989 and now works as a real estate attorney and broker.


Carol Silver describes the four-hour ride in the paddy wagon between Jackson and Parchman as more frightening than any previous part of the whole jail experience. Twenty-three girls, white and Negro, were crowded into a truck that had no springs and:

Bounced along toward an unknown future. Many of us had black and blue marks when we arrived because the drivers delighted in stopping and starting suddenly which threw us against each other and the sharp corners of the seats. But the most terrifying part of the ride was the three occasions when the driver suddenly jolted off to the side of highway and stopped. We imagined every horror, from a waiting ambush of the Ku Klux Klan to mined roads.

When Carol got out of jail and was asked to give a speech about her experience, she recounted what she had learned from Ruby Doris Smith in jail:

We were furious, we were outraged, we were seething with anger. But she, from the depth of her belief in nonviolence as a way of life, as well as a policy as expedient action, from her deep commitment to the tenets of Christianity and the brotherhood of all mankind-it was she who ministered to our pain, it was she who urged us not to feel so badly about her beating, it was she who turned this physical defeat into a victory of love over violence and oppression.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Jewish Women in Civil Rights - Carol Ruth Silver." (Viewed on April 18, 2014) <>.