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Freedom Rider continues fight for justice

Freedom Rider continues fight for justice

(Deseret News)

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — While being jailed during her fight for human rights, one woman transcribed her experiences on any scrap of paper she could find.

Carol Ruth Silver, one of the original Freedom Riders, spent 40 days in jail in Jackson, Mississippi, in June 1961 for her involvement with the movement.

After her release, Silver transcribed her notes to family members, who typed them up. Her thoughts sat in storage in her mother's garage in Los Angeles for decades. More than 50 years after her release, "Freedom Riders Diary: Smuggled Notes from Parchman Prison" was published in early 2014.

Silver spoke to a group at the Jewish Community Center on Wednesday about what led her to join the group and her experiences as a Freedom Rider. She also appealed to those gathered to continue to fight for justice.

Silver's speech came days after Martin Luther King Jr. Day and shortly before Black History Month.

The interracial Freedom Riders rode interstate buses into the then-segregated southern states after U.S. Supreme Court rulings in 1946 (Irene Morgan v. The Commonwealth of Virginia) and 1960 (Boynton v. Virginia) came down against segregation in interstate buses, terminals and restrooms.


To test the rulings, a group of civil activists traveled on buses, first through the upper south and later through the lower south.

The interracial riders were met with violence, jailing and opposition during their rides through the south.

Silver grew up in a nonreligious Jewish family where she learned and internalized the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, roughly translated as a charge to repair the world. Before joining the movement, Silver remembered seeing news coverage of the violence against the Freedom Riders in Alabama. She said she knew that the violence was in opposition to anything she had been taught.

"It became something that nobody could ignore. I couldn't ignore it," Silver said.

Silver was among the more than 400 Freedom Riders. She and those in her party were arrested for investigation of breach of the peace in Jackson, Mississippi. While riding in the paddy wagon on their way to the jail, members of the interracial group remarked that they had succeeded in integrating public transportation in Mississippi.

The Freedom Riders operated under the mantra of "my nonviolence is stronger than your violence," Silver said. They were prepared to be attacked or killed, knowing that violence could not win the war against injustice.

"We are the heirs to what the Freedom Riders started, and the job will never be finished because inequality will always (exist). There's a saying that says, 'You don't have to finish the job, but you cannot refrain from continuing and working on it.'"

Now, when she participates in a book signing or reads passages from her book, it takes her back to her Freedom Rider days.

"Once a Freedom Rider, always a Freedom Rider," she told KSL. "It became pretty much a career for me."

After the movement, Silver worked as a civil rights attorney and as program director for the Office of Economic Opportunity Legal Services for the Poor, among other social justice work.

She said the efforts of the Freedom Riders changed the world and called upon those gathered to remember the responsibility to continue working toward justice and equality.

"We are the heirs to what the Freedom Riders started, and the job will never be finished because inequality will always (exist)," she told KSL. "There's a saying that says, 'You don't have to finish the job, but you cannot refrain from continuing and working on it.'"

Although the '50s and '60s are known as the "good old days," Silver calls them "the bad old days," a time when people were still segregated. Although "we have had great strides in the desegregation of the United States," there is still room for improvement, she said.

Silver told young people to pay attention and do something when they feel that a situation is wrong.

They "have an obligation to stand up and to say something about it," Silver said. "Nobody is powerless. Nobody can say, 'Oh, there's nothing I can do.'"

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Whitney Evans


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