Four decades later, freedom rider returns to Miss.
Associated Press | 5/11/2011, 2:28 p.m.
One of her most frightening experiences came on May 28, 1963, when she helped challenge a whites-only policy at a lunch counter at Woolworth’s. She wasn’t even supposed to be there. Her assignment from Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers — who would be assassinated about two weeks later — was to observe other civil-rights workers at a picket line elsewhere in downtown Jackson.
The picketers were quickly arrested, so Trumpauer Mulholland decided to see what was happening at Woolworth’s. The black college students trying to integrate the lunch counter were soon attacked by white teenagers and adults.
Anne Moody recalled in her memoir that she and fellow Tougaloo students Pearlena Lewis and Memphis Norman started praying at the lunch counter — and then “all hell broke loose.”
“A man rushed forward, threw Memphis from his seat, and slapped my face,” Moody wrote in the memoir, “Coming of Age in Mississippi.” “Then another man who worked in the store threw me against an adjoining counter.”
Blood ran from the corners of Norman’s mouth as he lay on the floor, trying to protect his face as the man who threw him down repeatedly kicked him in the head. The workers, trained in a Gandhi-inspired discipline of nonviolence, never fought back.
“If he had worn hard-soled shoes instead of sneakers, the first kick probably would have killed Memphis,” Moody wrote. “Finally a man dressed in plain clothes identified himself as a police officer and arrested Memphis and his attacker.”
Trumpauer Mulholland said she and John Salter, a white Tougaloo professor who was active in the NAACP, went to the Woolworth’s counter to sit with the black civil-rights volunteers who were still there. The threat of violence was palpable.
“The students that came down to observe us, the white high school students, started grabbing everything they could off the counter — mustard and ketchup and vinegar and salt and pepper and sugar. And some brass knuckles came into play, and cigarettes on the guys,” Trumpauer Mulholland said.
“And once they ran out of condiments, they started grabbing things off the open counters, little junky things like they sell at dollar stores today, and throwing them at us and spray painting our backs and just generally tearing up the place and using it to attack us,” she said.
Several journalists recorded the scene, including photographer Fred Blackwell from the local Jackson Daily News. One of his images circulated worldwide on The Associated Press wire. It showed Salter, Trumpauer Mulholland and Moody sitting, apparently calmly, as they were doused with condiments and taunted by the mob for three hours. She said the media presence not only told the world what happened, but likely prevented the violence from escalating.
The civil-rights workers were able to leave in relative safety when the store closed that night, but only because Tougaloo president A.D. Biettel came to escort them out. Moody said in her memoir that outside the store, about 90 Jackson police officers formed a line between the small group and an angry white mob.