As remembered by Gene Lee
September 29, 2016
We are saddened by the news of the passing and homegoing celebration for Freedom Rider and Tougaloo alum, Mrs. Mary Harrison Lee.
Mrs. Mary Harrison Lee was born on July 22, 1939 in Manila, Philippines to Ida Lloren. She was adopted at an early age by Reverend and Mrs. Ernest Harrison. Her adopted father was a chaplain in the army giving her the opportunity to live in many places, such as Captieux, France, Erlangen, Germany, Fort Riley, Kansas, and San Antonio, Texas.
Mary graduated from Rochefort American High School in France. Upon returning to the United States, she visited Tougaloo College and immediately fell in love with its quaintness, intimacy, the hanging moss from the oak trees, and the family atmosphere. She was convinced that this was where she wanted to spend her next four years and enrolled in the upcoming semester.
She became a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. on December 13, 1959. She felt the plight of the Civil Rights movement and volunteered to become a Freedom Rider. Mary helped lead a "sit-in" in the Trailways bus station in downtown Jackson, where she was arrested and jailed. She did not waiver from the overall mission to gain equality for African Americans. As a result, on June 23, 1961, Freedom Riders from Tougaloo College set a precedent and became the first residents of Mississippi to lead in the movement.
While at Tougaloo College, Mary met and fell in love with Gene Lee. They were married in 1963. She and Gene were natural educators. Mary dedicated her working career educating youth. She began as a teacher in Picayune, Mississippi; later moving to Kansas City, Missouri. In 1973, she relocated with her family to Germany and taught within the Department of Defense American School system. In 1981, Mary and her family returned to the United States and settled in Jackson, Mississippi, where she retired in 2001 as Principal from Boyd Elementary School.
Mary and Gene were blessed with three (3) beautiful children: Geno (Angie), Daryl (Cassie), and Angel (Chris), and eight (8) grandchildren: Jessica, Tori, Gabby, Nick, Bella, Alexa, McKenzie, and Malita.
As remembered by Thomas Madison
October 1, 2016
Today, October 1, 2016 Mary Magdalene Harrison Lee a dear friend, a freedom rider, a foot soldier for peace and justice, and my hero, was laid to rest. Mary was married to Tougaloo College classmate Gene Lee.
I will miss Mary deeply because she stood with me as we made that high-level commitment to nonviolent direct action. Mary was a classmate at Tougaloo College. She was the mother of three beautiful children, Geno, Daryl, and Angel.
Please allow me to express to you just one of Mary's commitment to humankind: It was in June, 1961 when a real revolution was taking place within the confines of Tougaloo College, truly an oases within a sea of hate. It was in a dormitory room on the campus of this great Mississippi institution where a group of students and a representative of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC, plotted the Freedom Ride participation of the first Tougaloo College Students.
It was known that all of the Freedom Riders had come from states other than Mississippi. Indeed, the Mississippi power structure could not let us forget this fact. A speech was given by then governor Ross Barnett stating, "Our negras are satisfied with the way things are in Mississippi". Politicians and the Mississippi mainstream news media alike were expounding the idea that all black and white Mississippi maintained a dislike for the freedom riders. And that the Freedom Riders were a group of outside agitators.
Mary's disappointment was compounded by the fact that the Jackson Advocate, the largest and most read black-owned Jackson newspaper lent credence to Governor Barnett's black satisfaction idea. Tougaloo College students, especially those in that dormitory room knew that was not a true picture and we intended to prove it. We decided to become the "Mississippi Freedom Riders". Mary wanted to make a difference. She wanted to fight injustice wherever she found it.
We both believed, that based on Mississippi's prison reputation the freedom riders who were already in Jackson, Mississippi jails were going to be subjected to abuse and death if we, as Mississippi residents, did not get into the jails with them.
SNCC wanted four riders to participate on June 21, 1961 however one of our intended riders abruptly changed his mind about participating. Without a moment of hesitation Mary Magdalene Harrison Lee stood and announced "I'll go". This small group of Mississippians, Mary and I, Elnora and Joseph, (sister and brother from nearby Raymond, Mississippi) was about to blow the lid off that boiling pot.
One June 21, 1961 Mary and I awaken early. They were first in line for breakfast that morning. The more than three score of students in line with them had no idea that the two students sitting alone at a table in the corner was about to make history.
Later that morning, through an arraignment by SNCC the Mother of the Jackson Civil Rights Movement, Mrs. A.M.E. Logan arrived on campus driving her already famous station wagon. One by one Elnora, Mary, Joseph, and I placed our luggage in the rear seat of the automobile and took our place inside to await the forever time-consuming ride into an unknown venture. We hardly spoke one word. Many words of comfort were provided by Mrs. Logan. Due to high anxiety those words of comfort were barely audible.
As we left the campus Mary turned to get a look, (final?) at that grand symbol of the college, the Gate.
Mrs. Logan drove us to within one block of the Trailways Bus Station in Jackson, Mississippi. We retrieved our luggage and waved goodbye to our hero. The block away from the station contained only two or three policemen. There were many more present as we reached the front door of the station. As we entered Mary and I quickly noted that there were men and policemen who had lined the wall of the station, all smiling. Why were they smiling?
We were arrested of course and not allowed to board the bus to New Orleans, LA.
That was Mary Magdalene Harrison Lee's introduction to that great protest known as the freedom riders. Rest in peace Mary. The world is truly a better place because of you.