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Civil Disobedience: Freedom Rides
Excerpts from Judith Frieze articles on Freedom Ride to Jackson, MS
In 1961, Judith Frieze, a recent graduate of Smith College, joined African American and white volunteers on a Freedom Ride to Jackson, Mississippi. Their purpose was to test Boynton v. Virginia, a Supreme Court case ordering the integration of restaurants and waiting rooms in bus terminals serving interstate bus routes. Frieze was arrested and held in jail for six weeks for her act of conscience, as were many Freedom Riders. After her release, The Boston Globe ran a series of articles, written in Frieze’s voice by a reporter who had interviewed her. Below are excerpts from those articles, grouped thematically rather than presented in the order they were printed. (The themes at the top of each section were added by the Jewish Women’s Archive.) Note that some of the text in the original articles was printed in bold type, and has been reproduced that way below.
Excerpts from the Boston Globe series "The Judith Frieze Story"
All of a sudden I was tired of talking. I had reached the point when I wanted to do something about this. I felt like the only way that I could make my principles meaningful was by involving myself.
It seemed necessary to close that gap between what I was saying and what I was doing.
I wrote to CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and volunteered to participate in a Freedom Ride.
- Boston Globe, July 30, 1961
There were nine of us on that Freedom Ride – three white girls and one white man, one Negro woman and four Negro men…
A Negro boxer from Chicago was with us. It often amazed me that he, a fighter, could maintain the non-violent behavior of a Freedom Rider.
- Boston Globe, July 30, 1961
We were not supposed to strike back if we were attacked.
The men were told to form a ring around the women, and we were instructed to try and protect Mr. Schwartzchild.
The crowd is most likely to be angry with a white man, Wyatt said.
Secondly, they would vent their feelings against the Negro man.
We white girls were the least likely to be attacked.
- Boston Globe, July 31, 1961
The arrest of Miss Frieze and her eight companions brought to 140 the number of arrests during the 29-day siege of Jackson. The nine new riders were ordered arrested by Capt J.L. Ray after they entered the all-white waiting room and then failed to obey officers’ orders to move on. The only white man in the group, Henry Schwarzchild of Chicago, asked for permission to get a cup of coffee in the lunchroom and Ray told him to move on.
“I believe I have a right to get a cup of coffee,” Schwarzchild replied, and Ray told him that he was under arrest. Less than 10 minutes later the terminal was cleared of the nine riders.
- Boston Globe, July 22, 1961
“Then you are all under arrest,” he said.
A wave of relief spread over me.
I had looked forward to, and yet feared, this
moment. At last it had come and I was glad.
The police officers took our names and we were taken to city jail.
We had our moment of triumph, however, for we integrated the patrol wagon on the way – our whole group traveled together.
- Boston Globe, July 31, 1961
My home for the next three days was a cubicle, approximately 13 feet by 15 feet. It was meant to house four prisoners. There were 20 of us….
Although there was a shower in the back of the cell and we could shower every day, I felt dirty every minute I was there.
We each received a clean sheet as we entered the cell, and that was all.
The linen was grey with filth, outmatched, perhaps, only by the mattress.
And there were plenty of them. The cell had four cots in it, each topped with a scrawny, filthy mattress. We put the three largest girls on three of the cots and two of the little girls on the
The rest of us—the 15 medium-size girls—slept on mattresses on the floor. We lined them up, side by side, and allotted two mattresses to every three people.
- Boston Globe, July 31, 1961
The food was horrible…
A typical breakfast in a Southern prison consisted of black, watery coffee, biscuits and molasses, and always grits – a dish which my Southern friends told me was ordinarily quite tasty, but prison style, it was horrible…
Lunch and supper were usually quite similar, only supper was colder.
We had beans – every imaginable variety – crumbly corn bread and tap water, if we were thirsty.
- Boston Globe, August 1, 1961
PRISON LIFE - COMMUNITY:
The days in Hinds County Jail passed quickly, for we had devised ways to keep ourselves busy.
Each morning one of my cellmates gave ballet lessons. She had been a ballerina before going on the Freedom Ride…
We had mental exercise, too, in those early prison days.
Elizabeth Wyckoff, or Betty, as we called her, gave us Greek lessons during the day. She had been a classics professor at Bryn Mawr and Mount Holyoke Colleges.
We spent most of our time, however, getting to know each other.
At first we knew our new Negro friends by voice only. We had no way of seeing them. [They were in other cells since the jail was segregated.]
But dipping into our pool of contraband articles, we came up with a compact mirror. Now we could see each other. By holding the mirror out in the hallway between the two cells, those in one cell could see into the next.
In this way, we were able to “introduce” ourselves to each other.
- Boston Globe, August 2, 1961
Each evening we would “broadcast” a radio program.
One girl would play the role of announcer, another was in charge of commercials – we advertised those items found necessary around the cell, like toothpowder and “super-fatted lanolated soap.” The rest of us would deliver news bulletins, sing, tell jokes or act out original skits.
Most of the talent was amateurish, but several of the girls had excellent voices and we enjoyed listening to them.
- Boston Globe, August 5, 1961
[On July 23, 1961, Judith Frieze was bonded out of prison due to ill health. In the last of the Boston Globe articles, she reflects on her experience.] Now that I have the time to think about my past month, I have thied ta [sic] analyze the lessons I have learned.
There has never been any question as to whether the ordeal was worth it. I believed in a cause—integration—and I have done something about my belief. I have tried to make my beliefs meaningful; I have not merely talked about them.
I endured my prison sentence, and found it almost bearable because I was fighting for a cause in which I believed. And others were fighting with me.
- Boston Globe, August 6, 1961
- Review who wrote these articles and when. For what purpose and what audience did she write them?
- What happened to Judith Frieze and the other volunteers during Freedom Ride? (Describe it in your own words.)
- What are Judith's stated reasons for taking part in the Freedom Ride? What do you think may have been some of Judith's unstated reasons for taking part in the Freedom Ride?
- What kind of preparation did the Freedom Riders get before taking part in this event? Why do you think such preparation was provided? Are there other kinds of preparations that you think might have been helpful, given what we know about Judith Frieze's experiences?
- Reread section B above. What do you think of the ranking – 1) white man, 2) black man, 3) white woman – as the most likely order for violent attack? Why do you think this would be true?
- How difficult and/or easy do you think Judith Frieze found non-violence or civil disobedience? What evidence do you have? How do you think you might have reacted if you had been in Judith's shoes?
- Based on these excerpts, what was life like in prison for Judith Frieze and the other female Freedom Riders? What sacrifices did they make? What do you think they gained? (for themselves, for others) How did they form a community?
- In the last of The Boston Globe articles, Judith Frieze says, "I endured my prison sentence, and found it almost bearable because I was fighting for a cause in which I believed. And others were fighting with me." How do group acts of civil disobedience like Freedom Ride differ from moments of personal resistance? What role do you think community played in activists' motivation for getting involved and ability to stay committed throughout the Civil Rights Movement?
- We know that Judith Frieze was Jewish. Although she does not mention any Jewish values as motivation for what she did, can you think of any that might fit this situation? Do you think it's significant that she does not mention her Jewishness in any way in relation to this event? Why or why not? What role does your Jewish identity play in the issues you're concerned about or act upon?
Front page story
A number of the Boston Globe articles about Judith Frieze's experience as a Freedom Rider were front page stories, including "Then Came the Moment I Feared," which can be seen in this newspaper clipping scanned from the microfilm. Frieze describes her arrest in this article (part II of the series).
Interview with Judith Frieze Wright
In this video clip from July 2010, Judith Frieze Wright reflects back on her experience as a Freedom Rider in the summer of July 1961 and why she got involved with the Civil Rights Movement. Wright was interviewed by Oral Historian Jayne Guberman as part of JWA's 2010 Institute for Educators.
Judith Frieze Wright interview excerpt
Video Dicussion Questions
- What, if any, differences did you notice in how Judith Frieze Wright described her experience as a Freedom Rider in the video versus in the articles written at the time?
- Wright says that it was not only her commitment to justice that drove her to join the Freedom Rides, but also her desire for adventure. What do you think about that statement?
- Were there any other comments in the video clip that stood out to you? Which one(s) and why?