June, 1961. Thomas M. Armstrong, determined to challenge segregated interstate bus travel in Mississippi, courageously walks into a Trailways bus station waiting room in Jackson. He is promptly arrested for his part in a strategic plan to gain national attention. The crime? Daring to share breathing space marked "Whites Only." Being of African-American descent in the Mississippi Deep South was literally a crime if you overstepped legal or even unspoken cultural bounds in 1961. The consequences of defying entrenched societal codes could result in brutal beatings, displacement, even murder with no recourse for justice in a corrupt political machine, thick with the grease of racial bias.
The Freedom Rides were carefully orchestrated and included both black-and-white patriots devoted to the cause of de-segregation. Autobiography of a Freedom Rider details the strategies employed behind the scenes that resulted in a national spectacle of violence so stunning in Alabama and Mississippi that Robert Kennedy called in Federal marshals. Armstrong's burning need to create social change for his fellow black citizens provides the backdrop of this richly woven memoir that traces back to his great-grandparents as freed slaves, examines the history of the Civil Rights Movement, the devastating personal repercussions Armstrong endured for being a champion of those rights, the sweet taste of progressive advancement in the past 50 years, and a look ahead at the work still to be done.
Hundreds were arrested for their part in the Freedom Rides, Thomas M. Armstrong amongst them. But it is the authors' quest to give homage to "the true heroes of the civil rights movement . . . the everyday black Southerners who confronted the laws of segregation under which they lived . . . the tens of thousands of us who took a chance with our lives when we decided that no longer would we accept the legacy of exclusion that had robbed our ancestors of hope and faith in a just society."
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About the Author
Natalie R. Bell is a journalist based in New York. She has worked for more than 25 years as a news reporter for broadcast and print news organizations in the Northeast, Midwest and Southern U.S. Her work has been carried by national and international news organizations, such as Dow Jones & Co. and National Public Radio. She is specialized in covering public affairs, in particular education. As a Fulbright-Hayes fellow, she covered political and cultural transition in post-apartheid South Africa. She has also taught journalism and media studies as an adjunct professor. Bell has family roots in Prentiss, Mississippi, and met Armstrong while researching her family history. She is a native of Nashville, Tennessee, and has lived and worked as a television news reporter in Mississippi.
Table of Contents
Foreword Dr. Beverly Hogan v
Part 1 Receiving the Call
1 Opportunity Denied 11
2 The Environment 37
3 Education of the Mississippi Negro 59
Part 2 Answering the Call
4 Cornerstone: Tougaloo 87
5 Becoming a Freedom Rider 99
6 In the Stillness of the Midnight 111
7 Friends of the Spirit 139
Part 3 Remembering the Call
8 Disillusioned 153
9 The Doors of the Church Are Closed 165
10 Chicago Bound 179
11 Reflections 191
Book Club Discussion Questions 201
Author Notes 204
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