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Why ‘Kayo’ Hallinan Wasn’t a Freedom Rider

John Dolan, Freedom Rider

The Freedom Rides were a model of several management principles en vogue, at least until recently, in the new economy. The Riders were strategically nimble, adeptly abandoning their original destination of New Orleans to pursue “jail, no bail” in Jackson. They employed just-in-time inventory controls: within a day or two of their arrival in one of the three staging cities (Nashville, New Orleans and Montgomery), new Riders were assembled into smallish groups and sent on to Jackson. They also practiced very decentralized management, pushing out to the edges of the enterprise the responsibility to find Riders and raise travel funds.

Recruiting also meant screening: potential Riders were vetted especially for a commitment to practice nonviolence, as well as any political liabilities. John Dolan (above), then a student at Berkeley, California, recalls one candidate who didn’t make the cut.

Vincent Hallinan was a well-known activist lawyer in the ’30s and ’40s in San Francisco, a Communist, pretty open. He had six or seven sons, and he taught them all to box. I knew two of them–Kayo and Dynamite. Kayo was a couple of years ahead of me at Berkeley. He was a light-heavyweight boxing champ and very left-wing.

Kayo wanted to go on the Freedom Rides. Ed Blankenheim, one of the original Freedom Riders, came out to organize our group.  He didn’t want Kayo to go on a Freedom Ride. I said, well, you tell him, not me. He did, and Kayo was pretty upset.

We were scared stiff that we’d be Red-baited if the Communists joined. At that point in the United States if you found a Communist involved in something, the whole thing was smeared. So that was one thing. But the reason Ed told Kayo he couldn’t go was that Kayo had gotten into a fistfight on a peace march, which was true and was also a good reason for him not to go. I’m sure that even if he hadn’t been a Communist, Ed would have been reluctant to let him go. Kayo wasn’t really big, but he was big enough and he was a very good boxer.

Terence “Kayo” Hallinan served one term as the San Francisco DA in the ’90s. Previously he’d been a member of the city’s board of supervisors. Today he sits on the advisory board of NORML.

Readings in McLean, VA, and Lincoln, NE

Freedom Rider

I’ll be in Virginia in early March to do a reading and slide show for the Fairfax County Library in McLean, details below. Appearing with me will be Rev. Reginald Green (above and below), a Freedom Rider from Washington, DC, who will talk about his experiences in Mississippi and, with a small amount of encouragement, will sing a freedom song or two.

Fairfax Library
Thursday, March 5
7:30 PM
McLean Community Center
1234 Ingleside Ave.
McLean, VA 22101

Much later in the year I will be heading west to do my show at Nebraska Wesleyan in Lincoln. I’ll have a Freedom Rider with me, but haven’t figured out who yet.

Nebraska Wesleyan University
Thursday, Nov. 12
1 PM
Venue TBD
Lincoln, NE

Reginald Green, Freedom Rider

Freedom Riders in the Smithsonian Magazine

On Sunday, May 14, 1961—mother’s day—scores of angry white people blocked a Greyhound bus carrying black and white passengers through rural Alabama. The attackers pelted the vehicle with rocks and bricks, slashed tires, smashed windows with pipes and axes and lobbed a firebomb through a broken window. As smoke and flames filled the bus, the mob barricaded the door. “Burn them alive,” somebody cried out. “Fry the goddamn niggers.” An exploding fuel tank and warning shots from arriving state troopers forced the rabble back and allowed the riders to escape the inferno. Even then some were pummeled with baseball bats as they fled.

A few hours later, black and white passengers on a Trailways bus were beaten bloody after they entered whites-only waiting rooms and restaurants at bus terminals in Birmingham and Anniston, Alabama.

The bus passengers assaulted that day were Freedom Riders, among the first of more than 400 volunteers who traveled throughout the South on regularly scheduled buses for seven months in 1961 to test a 1960 Supreme Court decision that declared segregated facilities for interstate passengers illegal.

After news stories and photographs of the burning bus and bloody attacks sped around the country, many more people came forward to risk their lives and challenge the racial status quo. Now Eric Etheridge, a veteran magazine editor, provides a visceral tribute to those road warriors in Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Mississippi Freedom Riders. The book, a collection of Etheridge’s recent portraits of 80 Freedom Riders juxtaposed with mug shots from their arrests in 1961, includes interviews with the activists re-flecting on their experiences.

Read the rest.

Read other features & reviews (leMonde2, NYTimes, WSJ . . . )

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