As remembered by Sheila
July 7, 2013
Steve McNichols — May 19, 2013,
Stereotypical Freedom Riders were clean-cut collegians: not "connected" hairy guys with gold chains.
And yet, at least three Freedom Riders got their jaundiced view of power from homes where the Establishment had to be bought off, in order to eke out a living.
One very gentle guy, from Camden, New Jersey, had a wiry, high-strung Black father who ran numbers and a gorgeous mother whose Italian father was said to be a mobster.
One's Jewish mother & Calabrian father left the Mob, when he & his brother were in grade school. They took a Swedish surname & lived low- profile lives in the Bronx. His mother's first husband, a gangster, was deported to Russia, her sons were placed in institutions: they became small-time hoods. The sons she raised in the Bronx became Civil Engineers.
Steve's maternal grandparents were early Zionist pioneers who were among the original founders of Tel Aviv, in 1909. They had immigrated in a small wave of idealists and wanted to establish a model hygienic & aesthetically pleasing city. Steve McNichols' father & paternal grandfather were Jewish tough guys: McNichols was a grandmother's maiden name adopted by her husband in a time of need.
At Steve's request I searched for his family's home in North St. Louis. It was gone, but had been less than a block away from one of the places where my stepfather grew up. The area was notorious & it was one of the reasons my stepfather & two of his brothers wound up in the fight game'. (My stepfather put himself through engineering school coaching boxing & was both an engineer & a legendary boxing referee. His brothers were briefly pros, but not really good ones & chose other careers. A fourth brother ran away, joined the horse marines' at 14, & had an Army career, even after a tank ran over his head. A fifth brother went into civil service, after WWII.)
Looking at the Freedom Ride photos of Steve, he was dark & muscular, but nothing like the Vegas player type" I met in 2000, when we were to do an oral history at Frank Nelson's apartment in San Francisco. The oral history never came off, because Steve decided at the last moment that he could sell his story & he didn't want it floating around, he said. I told him he could keep his story out of Columbia's archives (I'd just hold back the tapes) & his copy of the tapes would help him in his own telling. But he wasn't buying it. He wound up telling parts of the story at so many meetings that it has to be on record somewhere, so it's probably not lost to history.
Steve's Freedom Ride started in California, in August, but the riders were jailed in Houston & never made it to Jackson. The four white males on the Ride (including Steve Sanfield) were put in the Tank with 107 other prisoners. The four Freedom Riders on the Tank were brutalized--as often happened--at the behest of the guards. It seems like at least one of the Riders was threatened with rape. The threats against the four of them were serious enough to get them bailed out, after four hellish days. The prison rapists & thugs probably got time off or maybe charges were dropped.
Steve eventually became an attorney, specializing in employment law. He did not marry happily, by his account, & he never mentioned any children.
As remembered by Rick Tuttle
July 2, 2014
Steven Everett Mcnichols was from New. York (a maternal granparent had been an early Zionist founder of Israel) and was a college student at. UCLA when he was a 1961 Freedom Rider. Arrested and badly beaten in Houston. Texas, he went on to be chairman of Platform, a noted early 1960's. UCLA political group, and he was elected in 1963 as National Students Association representative at. UCLA As NSA representative he played a key role in establishing the Community. Services Commission. Later Steve was head of the Civil Rights Division of NSA.
He played a role in revealing the Central Intelligence Agency's control of NSA. He was active in support of the challenge to the Mississippi segregationist congressional delegation and he marched in the 1965 Selma. March. Steve later worked for the Ford Foundation, earned a Masters Degree in Economics at the University of Texas, worked in the [Los Angeles] Mayor Tom Bradley administration, earned his law degree at the University of. California Hastings and practiced employment law in the. S.F. Bay area on behalf of plaintiffs.
He had a great sense of humor and was a great guy.