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What They Wore

When the first groups of Freedom Riders were transferred from Jackson jails to Parchman, the state prison in the Delta, the male Riders were made to strip and stand naked for a long time while the guards gawked at them. Once they had been taken to their maximum security cells, they were issued their prison wear: green shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt. No shoes. That was all they had to wear during their time there, and at least once their clothing was taken from them (as were their mattresses), in an effort to get them to stop singing Freedom Songs at all hours.

This pair of shorts was smuggled out of Parchman by William Leons, who recalls of the day he left prison: “For a moment the guards were not looking in my direction and I simply put the shorts in the pocket of my pants and walked out to the bus waiting to take us back to Jackson.”

Leons was arrested on July 30 at the train station in Jackson. He has taught anthropology at the University of Toledo, in Ohio, since 1975.