Four decades later, freedom rider returns to Miss.

Associated Press | 5/11/2011, 2:28 p.m.

JACKSON, Miss. — Corey Carter could hear snippets of music in his head — a calm and subtle melody that hadn’t found its shape. The 19-year-old college student simply needed a hero to visualize before he could finish his composition for wind ensemble.

He found inspiration in an unexpected place. And instead of a hero, he found a heroine.

Standing in line at a Walgreens’ one day a few months ago, he casually flipped through a book about African-American history in his hometown of Jackson, Miss. There, he ran across the 1961 mug shot of a jailed civil-rights worker.

The 19-year-old white woman had a calm but determined gaze. Her hair was neatly bobby-pinned, revealing a delicate earring in the shape of a cross. She wore her Sunday-best dress, a gingham check reminiscent of Dorothy’s in “The Wizard of Oz.”

Around her neck hung a board with booking information for the Jackson city jail. She and other Freedom Riders had been arrested and charged with breach of peace after traveling in an integrated group, by train, from New Orleans.

“It was just a very powerful image,” Carter recalled.

The woman in the mug shot was Joan Trumpauer, who grew up in northern Virginia and spent three years in the early 1960s working for racial equality in Mississippi, then one of the most defiantly segregated states in the nation.

Carter, a University of Southern Mississippi music major and aspiring film composer, saw a woman who did more than talk about racial equality — she lived it.

“Once I was kind of thinking about that story, it took a turn where it all kind of morphed together and I could see where the piece was going,” he said. “I knew the piece then had something that there was a goal to.”

In a matter of weeks, his “Power of Conviction” was dotted with the heroic refrains of trumpets, the clarion calls of trombones. Carter’s six-minute personal project was complete.

Trumpauer — who would later marry and become Joan Trumpauer Mulholland — left Duke University in 1961. Defying the wishes of relatives who were steeped in a culture of segregation, she headed to Mississippi to work in the civil rights movement. She was inspired, she said, by the Bible’s call to love thy neighbor and the belief that all men are created equal.

“What brought me to the movement was, basically, you could see the inequalities in life and the contradictions,” she told The Associated Press in a recent interview from her home in Arlington, Va.

She served her first three sweaty summer months for the breach-of-peace arrest in the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, now infamous for the beatings and other abuse Freedom Riders endured there.

After being released, she helped register voters and earned her degree as one of the few white students at traditionally black Tougaloo College in Jackson, a school that in the 1960s was a hub of activity for the expanding civil-rights movement.