“We lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but my father passed and my mother moved us back to her home to Jackson, Mississippi. We played with white kids at an early age. They came to our yards and we went to theirs, but there was an unwritten rule that we couldn’t enter each other’s houses. The summer of 1961, Jackson became very tense based on what was happening in Alabama. My principal got on the intercom and said it was best for us not to get involved when the Freedom Riders came through here. They warned us of what could happen to us our or family. My pastor, community folks and mother said to stay away, too. But I was nosy. I wanted to see what a Freedom Rider looked like, talked like and dressed like. We lived close to the bus station and my friend and I thought we could walk over and look around, then get back to the house and never be missed. We didn’t know the Freedom Riders had already been arrested by the time we got there. We looked in the windows and could not see anything, so my friend pushed me inside the front entrance. Then he ran and I was arrested. I was 13. They asked me two questions, my name and my place of birth. Saying Milwaukee, Wisconsin was my place of birth landed me in Parchman prison because they assumed I was a Freedom Rider. I was number 21129 and put in a cell on death row with two individuals who had been convicted. I had no trial and didn’t get to call my mama. For five-and-a-half days she didn’t know where I was. The friend who pushed me in refused to say anything to anyone. I was released by Ross Barnett, one of the most racist governors this state has ever had. I never met or spoke to him, but he will always be a part of me because he saved my life.
I was arrested 109 times
Those days in prison felt like years. So many things happen when you are locked up from the profanity to them saying they were going to make a girl out of me. I was 13 and didn’t know what the hell they were talking about. After I got out and went home, my mother beat the hell out of me and I didn’t want to have anything else to do with the movement. But the following year I was arrested and I went on to be arrested 109 times. My worst beating was in Canton by sheriff Billy Noble. They say if you can withstand the first lick you can take the rest. That is not true, because every blow hurts. I felt the beatings and arrests were doing something positive and changing the situation. I had so much love for humanity that I had to keep going.
I never dreamed one day this Civil Rights Museum would be built in Mississippi and I would be standing here as a part of history. At first, I didn’t want to come here because it brought back so many memories. I am one of the five in this group that is still alive today. I am so thankful to be a part of this group of brave, black individuals who stood up for what is right.”