This Freedom Rider was shot at, attacked, and put on death row—all by 20 years old

By Heather Giligan, TIMELINE

Joan Trumpauer spent ten days in a Mississippi jail in the summer of 1961 before she was marched out of her cell and loaded into a bus. She’d been arrested for sitting in a whites-only waiting room in Jackson, Mississippi, with her fellow Freedom Riders — some white, like her, some African American. At age 20, she already had two years of experience being arrested and thrown in jail for her role in the civil rights movement. She’d even smiled faintly in her mug shot taken at the Hinds County jail.

As Trumpauer left Jackson behind, she didn’t know if her life was about to get better or worse. The Riders, many of whom were student activists from groups like the Congress of Racial Equality, the Nonviolent Action Group, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, weren’t actually breaking the law when they were arrested — in 1960, the Supreme Court had ruled that segregated interstate buses were unconstitutional. Southern states nevertheless continued to enforce Jim Crow as if nothing had happened.

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