Pre-order the new improved expanded paperback edition!

New & Improved ‘Breach of Peace’: Now With More Freedom Riders!

 

I’m thrilled to announce that Vanderbilt University Press is publishing an expanded edition of Breach of Peace in paperback this summer. They’ve let me add new portraits and profiles of sixteen Riders I found — or who found me — after the original edition was published in 2008. I’ve also updated the profiles of the original eighty-two¬†featured Riders.

We’ll have printed copies in hand . . . real soon. Ish. For sure. In the meantime, the book’s already generating press:¬†“50 Years After Their Mug Shots, Portraits of Mississippi’s Freedom Riders,” on the Lens Blog at the New York Times.

On the new cover is Catherine Burks-Brooks, a Rider born in Alabama, a student at Tennessee State in 1961 and a member of the Nashville Student Movement. Burks-Brooks was part of the group that quickly went to Birmingham to keep the Rides going after the violent attacks in Anniston and Birmingham.

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Winonah Beamer, 1941-2018

Winonah Beamer was a Freedom Rider despite the fact that both her boyfriend and mother told her no, she couldn’t be one. But she was determined that way.

Her boyfriend said no, Mississippi was too dangerous for her, as he headed out the door to Jackson, a Freedom Rider en route to getting arrested. So he was quickly out of the way. Then her mom refused to sign the parental release CORE required for younger Riders. Beamer was 19. She sad she would forge her mother’s signature if she didn’t sign it. And that was done.

Beamer continued in her persistence even after she got herself arrested and sent to Parchman. After six weeks — the time at which all the other jail-no-bail Riders were bailing out (to preserve their appellate rights; it’s complicated) — she reused to bail out.

“With all the comings and goings, [Parchman] got to feel at times like a supermarket,” she told me in 2007. Yes, it was the first time I’d ever heard Mississippi’s infamous Delta prison described that way too.

So everyone else eventually left and Beamer stayed, the only person on her cellblock, the last Freedom Rider in Parchman. For three months: September, October and November. “They would let me out to take a shower, twice a week,” she said, “and I would run down to the other end [of the cellblock] and tag and run back. That was my exercise, because other than that I was in the little cell.”

“My feeling was there needed to be a small footnote, what the state of Mississippi was exacting in terms of a punishment for this misdemeanor. This is what it cost Winonah and Pat [Bryant, a black Rider] to go into a waiting room and sit down next to one another.”

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Louisiana to Wyatt Tee Walker: Are You Crazy?

How do you tell if a Civil Rights activist is crazy?

Would it help to ask him, “Why do you believe in integration?” Or, “Do you feel like people are against you?”

Or maybe this question would do the trick. “Do you think I hate colored people any more than I hate northern Yankee bastards?”

Wyatt Tee Walker About a year after his arrest in Jackson as a Freedom Rider (right), the Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker was arrested in Shreveport, LA, at the Little Union Baptist Church.

It was the evening of June 8, 1962. Inside the church, Martin Luther King was speaking about voting rights. Outside, Walker was imploring the police to guard the rear of the church as well as the front. King and Walker had flown to Shreveport earlier in the day from Atlanta, despite a death threat against King if he came to town.

According to Walker, J. E. Downes, the Commissioner of Public Safety, refused to discuss any security details. “G’wan inside!” was all he would say. But Walker kept asking and soon enough Downes arrested him and Harry Blake, an SCLC associate. The charge? Loitering.

So far, so typical. Louisiana officials, however, were not always content with the standard misdemeanor charges for activists. Earlier in the year Baton Rouge had charged three SNCC organizers with “criminal anarchy” — trying to overthrow the state of Louisiana. Shreveport went a different way: they asked the Caddo Parish coroner to conduct a lunacy test.

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