Helen Singleton

CORE, Mississippi, 1961-64
Current Residence: Los Angeles
Email: rsinglet@lmu.edu
Phone: 310-338-7373
Web Site: myweb.lmu.edu/rsingleton

Doing the Right Thing
My Country, My Mother, and Me
21 Months

In the summer of 1961, as an undergraduate, I became a Freedom Rider along with a group of students from UCLA, and other campuses in Los Angeles. My husband, Robert Singleton, was one of the organizers of the group. The Freedom Rider movement, which tested discrimination in travel accommodations, was one of several forms of non-violent civil disobedience that we undertook to bring about social change. We were arrested and incarcerated at Parchman Penitentiary near Jackson, Mississippi.

I felt strongly about the injustice of racial discrimination and segregation. My feelings were born of childhood experiences that were seared in my memory. Each summer, my parents took the family to visit our grandmother in Virginia. The trip from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Lawrenceville, Virginia took about fourteen hours by car. For hours, the night before the trip, my mother cooked large amounts of chicken, vegetables, and rolls so that we could make the trip without stopping for food. As African-Americans — we were called "Negroes" or "colored people" in those days, — we could not stop at any eating place along the way. This seemed so wrong, but it was a fact.

As our vacation on the farm in Virginia continued for several weeks, I noticed signs here and there and heard conversations indicating that colored people could not use certain facilities or they could not sit in some places. We could only go into town and get service in the stores one day per week. When we had any contact with white people, we must approach their homes by way of the back door. I experienced these insidious insults each summer for years. I subsequently learned that the schools in the south were also segregated. So when students and others in the black communities of southern states began various forms of protest — the bus boycott and Sit- Ins — I was ready to join in their efforts to effect change.

The civil rights movement of the sixties did not occur in a vacuum. A reading of the history of this country reveals many movements in which African-Americans have taken actions that helped the rest of America understand it's full mission and to bring that mission closer to reality. I felt we were continuing the struggle. Even today, in issues of domestic violence and sexual harassment, our consciousness as a society has been raised, just as often as not, by the actions of African-Americans, the original minorities. Though that is not our chosen role, we have helped to contribute to the culture of this country in a positive way by doing so.

After returning from the Freedom Rides, I continued my studies. I graduated from UCLA with a Bachelor degree in Fine Arts and later received a Masters degree in Public Policy Analysis and Administration from Loyola Marymount University. I have worked in government with Art Museums and state arts councils, with educational institutions, and non-profit arts organizations. I am presently retired.


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