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Thu Apr 25, 2019, 04:10 PM

"a woman of substance" [View all]


Joan Trumpauer Mulholland


Mulholland in 2013
Born Joan Trumpauer

September 14, 1941 (age 77)
Washington, D.C., United States
Nationality American
Education Duke University
Tougaloo College
Known for Freedom Riders
Home town Arlington, Virginia
Children 5 sons

Joan Trumpauer Mulholland (born September 14, 1941) is an American civil rights activist and a Freedom Rider from Arlington, Virginia. She is known for the following: taking part in sit-ins; being the first white to integrate Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi, and joining the Delta Sigma Theta sorority;[1] joining Freedom Rides; and being held on death row in Parchman Penitentiary.

She ultimately retired after teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) for 40 years and started the Joan Trumpauer Mulholland Foundation, dedicated to educating the youth about the Civil Rights Movement and how to become activists in their own communities.

Early life


Joan later recalled an occasion that forever changed her perspective, when visiting her family in Georgia during summer. Joan and her childhood friend Mary dared each other to walk into "nigger" town, which was located on the other side of the train tracks. Joan stated her eyes were opened by the experience: "No one said anything to me, but the way they shrunk back and became invisible, showed me that they believed that they weren't as good as me."[6][citation needed]

At the age of 10, Joan began to recognize the economic divide between the races. At that moment, she vowed to herself that if she could do anything to help be a part of the Civil Rights Movement and change the world, she would.[4]

Her desire for activism created a tension and divide between her and her mother. She had planned on going to a small, church university in Ohio or Kentucky, but her mother would not allow it out of fear of integration. Instead, her mother insisted she apply to Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, where she was accepted.[4]


In the spring of 1960, Joan participated in her first of many sit-ins. Being a white, Southern woman, her civil rights activism was not understood. She was branded as mentally ill and was taken in for testing after her first arrest. Out of fear of shakedowns, Joan wore a skirt with a deep, ruffled hem where she would hide paper that she had crumpled until it was soft and then folded neatly. With this paper, Joan was able to write a diary about her experiences that still exists. In this diary, she explains what they were given to eat and how they sang almost all night long. She even mentioned the segregation in the jail cells and stated, "I think all the girls in here are gems but I feel more in common with the Negro girls & wish I was locked in with them instead of these atheist Yankees."[7]


Anniston, Alabama was the most dangerous of all towns where the riders stopped. On Mother's Day, the two buses arrived in Anniston and were set on fire. Churchgoers, along with their children, were reported to have watched as the riders attempted to escape the flames of the bus, only to be beaten by the townspeople until the police stopped the chaos. After this event, many thought they saw the end of the Freedom Rides. Instead, a call was made to Mulholland in D.C. and to Diane Nash asking for more riders.[4]

Mulholland, along with Stokely Carmichael (the activist and later SNCC chairman), Hank Thomas, and many others took a different freedom ride. The group took a plane to New Orleans, then rode on the Illinois Central train to Jackson, Mississippi, with members of the Congress of Racial Equality.[4]

After the new group of Freedom Riders were arrested for refusing to leave a bus waiting area in Jackson, Mulholland and others were put inside a paddy wagon and taken to the most dreaded prison in Mississippi—Parchman Penitentiary, a jail in the Delta, not far from where Emmett Till had been murdered in 1955. This prison had a reputation for violence, and several inmates had disappeared. It was June 1961. Mulholland was 19 at the time and refused to pay bail.[4]


When they got to Parchman, the women were issued coarse denim black-and-white striped skirts and t-shirts. Prior to being locked in cells, the women were stripped and each given a vaginal exam. The matron cleansed her gloved hand, prior to each exam, in a bucket of liquid that Mulholland said smelled like Lysol. In prison, Mulholland was segregated from her fellow Nonviolent Action Group (NAG) friends. She described the experience as isolating, with everyone unaware of what was going on.[4]

They were housed on death row for two months. "We were in a segregated cell with 17 women and 3 square feet of floor space for each of us," she recalled in 2014.[5][10][11]

Many of the freedom riders remained behind bars about a month, but Mulholland had no plans and no place to go until school opened in the fall. She served her two-month sentence and additional time to work off the $200 fine she owed. Each day in prison took three dollars off the fine.[11]


When Dr. King came to Tougaloo College to give a speech, it was Joan who escorted him to the science building where he was to speak. Mulholland states that King was the hero of the movement, but many often got frustrated with him for preaching all of the time.[4] Two years later, Mulholland was the first white student accepted into Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.[8] Later, Joan also became a secretary for SNCC.


Mulholland has stated that, during her attendance at Tougaloo College, crosses were occasionally burned on campus. Several of the local authorities were worried that something might happen between her—a white woman—and one of the black men. There were various attempts to shut down Tougaloo but the school remained open because its charter predated the Jim Crow laws.[4]


Mulholland participated in the May 28, 1963 sit-in at the Woolworth lunch counter in downtown Jackson with 13 other activists, such as fellow Tougaloo student Anne Moody, professor Dr. John Salter, and white Tougaloo chaplain Reverend Ed King. The activists were beaten, smeared with condiments, and berated. The crowd yelled at the students, screaming the phrase "communist" at them constantly. One man pointed out of the crowd to Mulholland, calling her a "white nigger".[5][12][13]

The sit-in started with Moody and two other black students, Pearlena Lewis and Memphis Norman, sitting down at the white counter. Police could not arrest them because the Supreme Court had ruled that police could only act on an invitation by the store manager, and could not come in of their own accord.[citation needed]

Around the time Mulholland arrived at Woolworth's, Norman had been dragged to the floor by former police officer Benny Oliver, who wore tennis shoes, and was being kicked repeatedly. The assault continued until an undercover police officer arrested both Norman and Oliver. Moody and Lewis were both torn from their seats later on. Moody had been thrown against the counter. Around this time, Mulholland noticed a man walk past Moody with a knife and called out, "Annie, he's got a knife." She then walked to the counter and sat down next to Moody and Lewis. People started to yell slurs such as "traitor," "communist," "black bitch," and "white nigger." Mulholland was lifted by her waist by one man and Moody was lifted from her stool by two high school boys. Both of the girls were dragged by their hair out of the store.[12]

Mulholland's assailant was arrested outside and she was allowed to go free. She returned to the lunch counter with Moody. At that moment there were two whites and two blacks, all female. Soon Salter arrived, joining the two women at the counter. The crowd grew more violent. Salter received a cigarette burn on the back of his neck, he was hit in the jaw with brass knuckles, and a pepper water mix was thrown into his eyes. She started to fear for their lives just before things started to draw to a close. The sit-in ended at about 2:00 p.m. when the president of Tougaloo College got a hold of the National Office of Woolworth, who advised the store manager to shut the store down.[4][12]


A few days after the March on Washington, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) set off a bomb at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, just before Sunday morning service. The bomb injured 15 people and killed four children.[15] Mulholland took a piece of glass from the explosion, glued it to black ebony wood, and fashioned a necklace out of it. She also carried a piece of the glass in her wallet for years, feeling it every time she reached for her change.[4]

Mulholland was the one who gave Michael and Rita Schwerner an "orientation" on what you need to know about being a white activist in the state of Mississippi. The next day, Michael was killed, along with James Chaney and Andrew Goodman. Mulholland explained that she is aware that nothing she could have added in the information she gave Schwerner would have prevented what had happened.[4]


This is an extraordinary person and what I've snipped is as important as what I've left.

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