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Freedom Rider Diary - Smuggled Notes from Parchman Prison

Freedom Rider Diary

Smuggled Notes from Parchman Prison

By Carol Ruth Silver
Introduction by Raymond Arsenault
Photographs by Claude A. Liggins
Afterword by Cherie A. Gaines
Series: Willie Morris Books in Memoir and Biography

Paperback : 9781496813145, 240 pages, 45 b&w photographs, February 2017
Hardcover : 9781617038877, 240 pages, 45 b&w photographs, January 2014

One woman's harrowing, unforgettable account from the nadir of Jim Crow Mississippi


Arrested as a Freedom Rider in June of 1961, Carol Ruth Silver, a twenty-two-year-old recent college graduate originally from Massachusetts, spent the next forty days in Mississippi jail cells, including the Maximum-Security Unit at the infamous Parchman Prison Farm. She chronicled the events and her experiences on hidden scraps of paper which amazingly she was able to smuggle out. These raw written scraps she fashioned into a manuscript, which has waited, unread for more than fifty years. Freedom Rider Diary is that account.

Freedom Riders were civil rights activists who rode interstate buses into the segregated southern United States in 1961 to test the US Supreme Court rulings outlawing segregation in interstate bus and terminal facilities. Brutality and arrests inflicted on the Riders called national attention to the disregard for federal law and the local violence used to enforce segregation. Police arrested Riders for trespassing, unlawful assembly, and violating state and local Jim Crow laws, along with other alleged offenses, but they often allowed white mobs to attack the Riders without arrest or intervention.

This book offers a heretofore unavailable detailed diary from a woman Freedom Rider along with an introduction by historian Raymond Arsenault, author of the definitive history of the Freedom Rides. In a personal essay detailing her life before and after the Freedom Rides, Silver explores what led her to join the movement and explains how, galvanized by her actions and those of her compatriots in 1961, she spent her life and career fighting for civil rights. Framing essays and personal and historical photographs make the diary an ideal book for the general public, scholars, and students of the movement that changed America.


"What does one take for a vacation in jail?' When one's destination is Mississippi's infamous Parchman Prison Farm, this is not an idle query. During the summer of 1961, more than 300 Freedom Riders, including 110 women, were incarcerated in Parchman after testing the Supreme Court's desegregation of interstate travel. Only one of these crusaders for civil equality managed to smuggle a diary out with her: Carol Ruth Silver, a twenty-two-year old Jewish New Yorker willing to put her liberty on the line in the spirit of tikkun olam--to heal the world. This vivid primary source allows an uncensored, unromanticized, and humbling view of the lived experience of young civil rights activists as they made the movement one day at a time, and of a foundational moment in what became Silver's lifelong commitment to social justice and the daily pursuit of a more perfect Union."

- Jane Dailey, University of Chicago

"Getting to know Carol Ruth Silver and other Freedom Riders has been an unforgettable experience. I am so pleased Carol Ruth Silver is sharing the personal diary she kept during that incredibly eventful and traumatic summer of 1961. It is never too late to hear more personal stories of individual acts of heroism. Her diary provides a first-person immediacy, which makes it such a page-turner. It's also a unique look at the hope and excitement of a young, single woman living in New York, and a window into the mundane yet terrifying unknown of being imprisoned in Mississippi in the 1960s. Her diary shows the bond between her cell mates and what the fiercely focused efforts of average citizens can do: not only did they bring down the ugly signs of Jim Crow segregation, but they also broke down barriers among people of different races and backgrounds to make our country better for all."

- Laurens Grant, producer of Freedom Riders, recipient of a Peabody and three Primetime Emmy Awards

"Carol Ruth Silver, thank you for making history as a Freedom Rider. Your courage and the courage of other Freedom Riders helped change American Society; no exclusions and freedom for all citizens."

- John Taylor, 1961 Freedom Rider

"Carol Ruth Silver's diary is a unique portrait of individual courage--a powerful story of idealism and hope, a reflection of a generation of young Americans who would no longer tolerate injustice and segregation. Her raw memories are a poignant reminder of a dark era of the past and of the need to continue our national ride to freedom, progress, and opportunity in our time."

- Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives (D-California)