This Mother is Proud Her Daughter is in Jail

Letter to the editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press
By the mother of Claire O'Connor
June 30, 1961

[See Freedom Rides for background information]


To the editor. We hear a great deal today about our young people. As in all periods we have our quota of delinquents — hot rodders, drunken drivers, young gangsters. I read in the paper the other day about the young GIs not out of their teens who cut a swath of murder across the nation. On the arm of one, the tattooed motto "I hate the world."

We have another kind of young person today and this kind too has existed in all times past. These are the clear-eyed youth with the realistic dreams — realistic because they mean to do something to make those dreams some realities — the kids with conviction, and the courage to live up to them. I am proud that my daughter Claire O'Connor is with these practical dreamers, not the other group.

Claire is in the Hinds county jail in Jackson Miss, sharing a four bunked cell with 11 or more other freedom riders from all parts of the nation including the south. She went there facing possible violence and certain arrest, because she believes that as long as full freedom and equality are denied to any portions of our citizenry, none of us is wholly free and equal.

I agree with Claire. As a citizen of the United States of America, I consider it my right to be able to go into any public place, restaurant waiting room in the nation.

My inability to do this is an infringement on my personal rights which are supposed be guaranteed by the Constitution. Suppose I wanted to take a Negro friend to lunch is there any restaurant in Mississippi where we could break bread together? Am I, let alone my friend, really free as long as these barriers exist?

There are those who say that these young "idealists" should stay home and expend their energies in trying to clean up their own backyard.". True, many inequities exist right here in the Twin Cities. But they will never be wholly eradicated as long as it is possible to point righteously to the south as proof of our own superiority. Let us strike at inequities where they are most flagrant. Because this is the weakest link in the chain. Raise the level of civilization in Mississippi and our own will rise correspondingly.

Again, there are those who argue that the objective of the freedom riders are worthy but their methods wrong or ill-timed. Let us work legally they say. Let us not go into another state and break their local laws.

I will not argue that the primary law breaker is the state of Mississippi, and other southern states. With their little local rules flaunting the greater law of the nation and constitution. Everyone knows this. But there are times when laws must be broken, Laws like these exist to preserve injustice, to prevent progress.

Underground Railway workers did not get hung up on the fine points of legalism. They saw that a job had to be done and they did it. Claire and her fellow freedom riders in disregarding these illegal local regulations are carrying on the finest traditions of Americanism.

As for timing the effort — isn't a hundred years enough of a cooling off period?

We must realize however, that the sacrifices of such young people as my daughter will not in themselves effect the needed changes. Their value consists in their dramatization of the issues. They are bringing these problems to the attention of the entire nation in the most effective way of which they are capable.

The changes will come about only when their action sets off the necessary reaction-which all of us hear, and all freedom loving people everywhere, wake u p to the seriousness of the situation and demand that the federal government do something about it. We must being to realize that as long as a single state, with impunity, defy the law of the nation to that extent law and lorder are everywhere threatened.

I wish to appeal to everyone to write to their senators and congressmen to the President and to Atty. Gen. Robert Kennedy asking that they use every means at their command to see that the sacrifices of the freedom riders will not have been in vain. St. Paul — Justine O'Connor

Copyright © Mrs. O'Connor, 1961.

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