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My Freedom Ride journey to prison began on June 6, 1961 from Washington, DC, to New Orleans, and Jackson, Mississippi. It seems a bus left Washington, DC, with Howard University students and NAG (Nonviolent Action Group) members going to Jackson, Mississippi without me. I didn't have a clue about the ride until James Farmer called me asking why I wasn't on the bus. He knew I was a very active Howard University student in student protest for civil rights, the peace movement, as a writer, speaker, and I should have been on the bus. Anyway, Mr. Farmer had a plane ticket delivered to me and zoom, I was up and away on my first plane ride, headed to Jackson, Mississippi by way of New Orleans.
The plane had a bad landing. A wing was on fire, the plane hit the runway Slam-bang. Passenger screamed, the plane stopped, passengers clapped. I was calm throughout the ordeal having fallen asleep after the plane took off and awakened when the plane bumped and stopped.
I was greeted in the airport by a activist who took me to a house where I saw some of the bus riders from Washington, DC. Surprise was the look when I walked in the door. I sensed that I was intentionally left out of the bus ride for a unexplained reason. When I attended Howard University it was thought that I was 16 years old. They thought I was smart kid from New York. That was the reason I was excluded. ... Hmmm. My famiy lived in New Rochelle, New York. They watched the news the day of my arrest. My dad fainted and went to the hospital, my mom screamed, and ... Here I am. That evening we were given a taste of New Orleans cooking and a view of "Colored Not Allowed."
New Orleans was so hot, and so muggy, and where we stayed there was no air conditioning. I saw the biggest cockroaches crawling on sleeping bodies. Stokely Carmichael had several on him and I tried to wake him up to no avail. He snored, snorted, his mouth open, and I couldn't take it so I got no sleep that night sitting in a chair on cockroach watch.
In the morning as we waited for our bus to Jackson to arrive we were watched by a group of protesters yelling their dislike of niggers, and promising we would die. Stokely decided he was going to talk to them and as he opened his mouth he was strong armed aside and reasoned with to be quiet. Our bus came and we got aboard, Black, White, together, headed for Mississippi. I woke up in Jackson and was taken to a house to leave my bag.
Things moved quickly as if it was a dream. I received no instructions about how to act, write a will, or protect myself. A mentor gave me change for a bus ride. Several mentors watched as I got on a bus and sat in the first seat to the dismay of the white bus driver. I was the only Freedom Rider that got on that bus. It seemed out of nowhere there were cameras flashing, people yelling, and I was strong armed off the bus by two huge football player looking white policemen who put me handcuffs and shoved me in to a paddy wagon. I stood and turned around and faced the world of hate I had never seen before, on June 8, 1961
I was taken to Jackson city Jail, Hinds County Jail, and the Parchman Farm Penitentiary. My cell mate was Rip Patton. In the cell to my right was John Lewis still hurting from a beating in Alabma, and Stokely Charmichael was In the cell to my right.
Yes they took our mattresses from us. We still sang freedom songs. Yes they took our clothes. Yes we froze when our bodies touched the steel bunks with the air turned on high. Yes we were eaten by insects released from jars into the cell block with the air turned off and the windows closed to make it hot like hell as we were bitten and eaten every where. Yes, they dragged a screaming white Freedom Rider past our cells. They had a wrist breaker attached to his right arm. It was a handcuff with big screws that hit the nerve points in his wrist. It was attached to a chain with a wooden handle. They dragged him, flipped the chain, making his body flip like a fish from the agony he experienced, and I felt it In my cell and still hear his screams when I have the memory. Yes they put stuff in our food to give us the runs. Yes they were devil mean hateful jailers.
Journey to Prison is a excerpt from a book in progress, Letters To My Children detailing Freedom Ride and life experiences, written by Abdul Aziz Khaalis (Jan Triggs)
Copyright © Abdul Aziz Khaalis. 2012